Deliciously varied wine styles

Watch: Madeira Wines Explained

In many ways these are the easiest fortified wines to understand. They are all aged in oxygen with the addition of heat. This gives them a delicious caramel and toffee character.

They are all higher alcohol, usually around 18% with the sweetness level varying from dry/off-dry to sweet. They have high acidity which makes them refreshing, particularly when compared to a Sherry or a Port. 

Madeira is made using grape varieties indigenous to the island and the best quality wines are those made from these grapes as single variety wines. The varieties are marked on the label and give you an indication of how the wine will taste.

  • Sercial is the driest style of Madeira with grapefruit, lime cordial flavours to accompany the caramel and toffee.
  • Verdelho is medium dry with delicious candied orange and marmalade to complement the caramel.
  • Boal is medium sweet with rich candied nuts, gingerbread flavours and dried fruits, which complement Madeira’s caramel and toffee beautifully.
  • Malvasia (or Malmsey) is the sweetest Madeira with rich flavours of dates, sticky toffee pudding and caramel, together with savoury, earthy aromas.

In addition to the single variety wines there are Madeiras which are blends and sold under brand names such as Blandy’s Duke of Clarence. These indicate on the label the style of wine, for example “rich”.

Food Pairing

  • Sercial is delicious as an aperitif and goes well with olives, hors-d’oeuvres and smoked fish. Also good with fresh cheeses.
  • Verhelho is also a good as an aperitif. Pairs beautifully with a variety of starters, pâté, ham and smoked meat.
  • Boal, with its full body and sweeter fruit flavours pairs with dried fruits, cakes and fruit based desserts. Also delicious with cheeses, the older the wine the more mature the cheese.
  • Malvasia (Malmsey), with its wonderfully rich flavours is fantastic with cakes, puddings, dark and milk chocolate. Pairs with most cheeses, particularly blue cheeses.

How long will it keep?

The good news is “for ever”, ok not quite. This is certainly the most robust fortified wine. Keep it stoppered in the fridge and it will retain its flavours for months. Madeira’s like Malvasia and Boal, particularly with a long age (10 years or more) might even retain their rich flavours from one Christmas until the next.

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