Madeira, started life as an unfortified wine.
For those of you who are unaware Madeira is an Island just over 600miles away from
It is famous for the wine that bears the islands name, Madeira. It is know as a
fortified wine although that’s not how it began its life. The islands
capital Funchal is a port that many would stop at on their journey to
North Africa. While here they would pick up provisions that included
the unfortified wine, however by the time they reached their
destination the wine would have deteriorated and was undrinkable. For
this reason alcohol spirit was added to stabilize the wine on its
long hot journey and by the time it reached the shores the wine had
actually improved and tasted better. This then gave great demand on
this style of wine. These wine were given the name vinhoda roda, wines that had sailed the sea.
Over time the sea journey was not a practical way in which to mature the wine
and so new methods were bought in to imitate the process. The casks
of wine were known as pipes or pipas and these were then stored in
the lofts of Madeira lodges so that they could get the benefit of the
The rooms and tanks that are now used are called estufas, creating an
artificial heating process.
There are different estufas options some are more cost effective than others.
The first method is by using concrete vats or stainless steel tanks,
hot water is pumped around the coils which circulates and heats up
the wine. The maximum temperature is reaches 55 C for at least 90
A second type of estuagem is where the process is gentle and takes more time.
Rather than large bulk tanks the wine is in pipes (wooden casks) and
placed in a room that is heated by tanks and steam filled pipes, the
temperature reaching 30-40 C and can take 6 months to a year. The
rooms are called, armazen de calor.
The finest Madeira wines don’t use estufas or any artificial heating, they use
the old traditional method where the wine is called Vinho de
Cateiro. This is where the pipes (wooden casks) are placed in the
eaves of the Madeira lodges in the capital Funchal and left to mature
for at least 20 years and could be as long as a 100 years! Imagine
starting this and not being able to taste it!
So now you know why Madeira is fortified and we haven’t even started on the
noble grape varieties that make this gorgeous wine not to mention the
different styles! The grapes and wine will follow.
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