Madeira… from Madeira | Posted: 24 October 2013
Be sure to sample some fortified Madeira wine while on a walking holiday on Madeira
Peter Williamson

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Peter Williamson

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Be sure to sample some fortified Madeira wine while on a walking holiday on Madeira

Most of us have heard of the island of Madeira and the wine of the same name – but what makes it different and gives it its unique flavour?

Well, it’s a fortified wine that found grace and favour, particularly amongst Victorian and Edwardian ladies as it was thought to have medicinal qualities. How it came into being was rather fortuitous – a chance discovery based on inquisitiveness and experimentation.

Like most such things, it wasn’t planned – it just slowly evolved on an island where viticulture was already well-established. From the outset, the climate of Madeira made it ideal for growing grapes and the subsequent production of wine.

Over the centuries, it proved very popular with sailors who would take barrels of it on their voyages of trade and discovery, adding a touch of alcohol to make it last longer. On their return, it was noticed that the nature of the leftover wine had changed – for the better – in colour and in taste.

It was reasoned that factors such as the rocking motion of the ship, the raised temperatures as they crossed the equator and the contamination by sea water, albeit minimal, led to this subtle change. So much so, that the island’s merchants would pay good money for this vinho da roda, wines that had made the round trip.

One of those families that played a leading role in the development of Madeira wine throughout its long history was the Blandy family. John Blandy had arrived on the island ‘for the good of his health’ in 1808, and never looked back.

Related Holidays

Landscapes of Western Madeira

Spend a thrilling week exploring the unique, dramatic and varied landscapes of western Madeira, the ‘floating garden’ of the Atlantic, from a hotel of character.

More about our centred walking holiday on Madeira >

Waterways & Flowers

Alternatively, walk from hotel to hotel in the eastern part of the island, finishing near the capital, Funchal, which is home to Blandy’s wine lodge.

More about our hotel-to-hotel walking
holiday on Madeira >

He began experimenting to reproduce the conditions that the wine endured on board ship, and was one of many such men who eventually created a process that produced fortified wine without the need for a sea journey. They realised that heating the young wine for three months before leaving it to mature might be the answer – and it was.

The traditional method – the unique estufagem ageing process – was to place the barrels in special rooms, or estufas, where the wine would be warmed by nothing more than the heat of the sun.

Today, there are four varieties of grape grown on the island, from the Sercial grape grown on the high, cool slopes on the north, to the rich Malmsey grape – used for the sweetest Madeira wines – which flourishes in the warmer, lower-lying vineyards.

Meanwhile, the Blandys are unique in being the only family of all the pioneering founders of the Madeira wine trade to still own and manage their own original wine company, two centuries of fine wine production later. Members of the family continue to live on Madeira, maintaining a tradition that goes back to 1811. Indeed, Michael and Chris Blandy are the 6th and 7th generations to work in the business.

In Funchal, one of the most popular excursions is to visit the Blandy’s wine lodge where you can learn all about this rather unique fortified wine – and sample the odd glass, too.

And for those who’d like to know, there are six basic groups of fortified wines:
• Port (Douro, Portugal);
• Sherry (Jerez, Spain);
• Madeira (Madeira);
• Marsala (Western Sicily);
• Vermouth (Northern Italy) and
• Muscat/Moscatel (various; Portugal and Spain).
What’s the difference in taste? Well, I can’t really answer that for you – you’ll have to go and try them…

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