The geographical area corresponding to the Denomination of Origin "Madeira" covers the whole island of Madeira.

With a history of over 400 years, Madeira wine is thought to be one of the most highly esteemed and well known fortified wines in the world. Madeira wine is a fortified wine, produced under specific conditions resulting from natural and human invention, in the DOP (Denominação de Origem Protegida) of Madeira.

The traditional and original vinification process includes the halt of must fermentation using the addition of grape spirit, selection of wine for blending, and aging of the wines in wood casks, either using the natural system known as "canteiro"1 or otherwise "estufagem"2.

A defining feature of Madeira wine is the high level of alcohol present. This is a result of paralysing fermentation by adding grape spirit, which to a certain extent preserves the quantity of residual sugar in the wine. Different styles of wine, ranging from dry to sweet are producing, depending on when the spirit is added to the wine – or when the wine is fortified.

Like Port wine, Madeira stands out from table wines thanks to unique characteristics. The range of wines is very diverse, with a surprising richness and intensity of aroma, a persistence of both aroma and finish, a high level of alcohol (generally between 19 and 22% vol.), with a wide range of sweetness and very diverse colour range.

Madeira wine flaunts a range of extraordinary and attractive colour tones through the various phases of a wine’s evolution. The palate ranges from amber, to brown, to coffee with hints of a greeny–red.

The wine is mainly produced from a blend of grape varieties, predominantly the regional variety, Tinta Negra. Single varietal wines are also produced, Malvasia, Boal, Verdelho, Sercial and Terrantez all of which are white grape varieties.

1 Literally a rack used for stacking casks or pipes, but here used to designate a high quality wine that has not gone through the process of estufagem.  
2 The heating process used in Madeira to advance aging.  



Recommended grape varieties:
White: Folgasão (Terrantez*), Malvasia-Cândida, Malvasia-de-São-Jorge (Malvasia, Malvazia), Malvasia-Fina (Boal, Bual), Moscatel Graúdo (Moscatel-de-Setúbal), Sercial (Esgana-Cão), Verdelho.
Red/Rosé: Bastardo (graciosa), Tinta, Tinta Negra (Molar, Saborinho), Verdelho Tinto, Malvasia-Cândida-Roxa and Listrão.

Authorised grape varieties:
White: Caracol, Rio-Grande and Valveirinho.
Red: Complexa, Deliciosa and Triunfo.

The revised terminology for the different grape varieties and their recognised synonyms has been published by Portaria nº 380 from 22nd November 2012.

* Boal, Bual and Terrantez are the only synonyms authorised for labelling DOP Madeira, and refer to Malvasia Fina and Folgasão respectively.

The principal white grape varieties used in the production of Madeira wine are Sercial, Verdelho, Boal and Malvasia, whilst Tinta Negra is the main red grape.

Tinta Negra is also the most widely planted grape variety. After the phylloxera plague at the end of the nineteenth century (1872) it became the principal vinifera (European) grape variety on the island.

Other varieties, principally Bastardo, Moscatel, Listrão and Terrantez, are held in high esteem thanks to the excellent, and now increasingly rare, wine they produced. A local ditty has been coined about Terrantez:
As uvas Terrantez
Não as comas nem as dês
Para vinho Deus as fez.

"Terrantez grapes either eat or give them away, for God meant them for wine" 

Sercial and Verdelho together are the traditional grape varieties representing less than 2% of grapes currently produced. The move toward traditional grape varieties will certainly contribute to an increase in its production.

Different variants of Sercial are planted in many wine regions on mainland Portugal, where it is often known as "Esgana Cão" (literally "dog strangler"), due to its marked astringency and high acidity.

"Sercial", a white grape variety, was planted in great quantity in Madeira before phylloxera arrives to Madeira Island.

It was traditionally cultivated in Funchal, Câmara de Lobos, Fajã dos Padres, Campanário, Paúl do Mar and Fajã (Ponta do Pargo).

Today, it is mostly found on the north side of the island in Seixal, Porto Moniz, Ponta Delgada, São Vicente and Arco de São Jorge. On the south of the island, it is planted mainly in Jardim da Serra and at an altitude of between 600 and 700 metres.

For many years, it was thought that Sercial was related to Riesling, the German grape variety which produces what is considered to be one of the finest white wines of the world. Like Riesling, Sercial has the ability to produce wines of great longevity, and is capable of producing a wine in a house style without losing any of the inherent characteristics of the grape. However, there is no proof of any link between the two varieties.

Sercial produces light bodied wines, dry and acidic. Young wines appear stringent and unpleasant, but when they can be aged for a long period, the wine is transformed into one of the finest and most delicate of Madeira’s.

Vine: vigorous growth, with a medium, irregular production, averagely resistant to oidium, mildew and dry rot.
Shoots: thick and short, clear light grey colour; short internodes, very variable in spacing, thick and sometimes twisted.
Leaves: medium or large, downy on the underside, small follicles on the topside, with visible 3 lobules on the upper side, whilst only lightly traced on the underside; the top lobe is always larger and more pointed than the lateral ones; shallow unequal serrations; open upper lateral sinuses and footstalk.
Tendrils: intermittent, long and forked.
Bunches: medium size bunches on average no bigger than 20cm, compact, light, conical, found on the fourth or fifth knot; medium and woody bunchstem.
Grapes: medium, elliptical – oblong grapes, golden green, not very waxy, remainder of the flower visible, and well attached to the pedicle; a greeny pulp, meaty and succulent; medium, whitened straight brush; thick short pedicles, acidic flavour.
Produce must with high levels of acidity, and with the potential for alcoholic levels of not more than 11º.

This was the most widely grown wide grape variety cultivated in Madeira, before phylloxera stuck. It is thought that it would have represented 2/3 of all the grape vines planted. There was also a red variety once planted, known as a Verdelho Tinto.

Verdelho also grows in the Azores (Ilha do Pico, Terceira and Graciosa) and Australia where it was taken from the island of Madeira around 1824.
Several authors believe, mistakenly, that is equal to Gouveio grown in the Portuguese mainland. It is different from Verdecchio from Italy and Verdejo form Spain.

Verdelho and Sercial are the least produced traditional grape varieties, currently representing 2% of total grape production. The move towards traditional grape stocks and Verdelho’s potential for producing excellent dry white table wine, will certainly promote greater production of this variety.
It is grown on the north side of the island, mainly in São Vicente, Seixal, Arco de São Jorge, Ponta Delgada and Ribeira da Janela. It is found in smaller quantities in the south, principally in Prazeres, Fajã da Ovelha and Estreito de Câmara de Lobos.

Verdelho produces wines that are slightly more full bodied but less acidic than those made from the Sercial grape. On the whole they are medium – dry wines, good on the nose, with strong hints of dry fruit. With age they develop an extraordinary smoky complexity, whilst still retaining their penetrating character.

Vine: vigorous, with a regular low to medium production, sensitive to Oidium (Oidium Tuckeri)
Shoots: elliptical – rounded, sometimes angular, grooved, dark brown with darker or grey patches. Short internodes, variable, thick and sometimes twisted.
Leaves: medium, rounded, wavy, slightly hairy on the topside, downy on the lower side, but in irregular patches so that it is nearly bare in some parts, shallow lobes or even just traced in, with obtuse and pointed serrations, footstalk usually tightly closed.
Tendrils: intermittent, long, forked or sometime trifurcated.
Bunches: medium or small bunches, compact, simple or light, cylindrical or conical, found between the 3rd or 4th node, short woody bunch stem.
Grapes: on average between 15/20mm, elliptical or elliptical-oblong, dark brown, with a slight waxy bloom, remainder of flower visible, lightly attached to the pedicle; a yellow-chestnut pulp, meaty and succulent; long straight and white brush ; short pedicles, short and thin pedicles; sweet flavour and lightly acidic.
Produces must with marked acidity and with a potential alcohol of between 10 and 12º.

Although this is a very popular variety throughout Portugal, it has become best known in Madeira, where it became anglicised into "Bual". Together with Malvasia, it is the most widely planted white grape variety, representing approximately 5% of all grape production.

It has spread throughout Campanário, Câmara de lobos, Santo António, Estreito de Câmara de Lobos, Paúl do Mar and Fajã (Ponta do Pargo). Today it is grown mainly in warm locations on the south of the island, namely Calheta, Estreito da Calheta, Arco da Calheta, Câmara de Lobos, Estreito de Câmara de Lobos and Campanário. Although it is cultivated on the north side of the island, the quantity produced from these vineyards is insignificant in relation to the total volume produced on the island.

It produces rich wines, medium-sweet and dark, medium bodied and fruity, with excellent potential to age well. It can be enjoyed whilst still young; younger than a Verdelho or a Sercial.
As it ages in cask, it becomes an attractive, well rounded wine, retaining some acidity.

Vine: vigorous, producing medium quantities: sensitive to oidium and to mildew.
Shoots: light greyish colouring, with short internodes.
Leaves: medium, downy on the underside, small follicle on the topside, with the three lobes of the upper being clearly visible, sometimes pointed, whilst those on the underside are usually not prominent; uneven serration, usually obtuse and less pointy, a slightly open footstalk; upper lateral sinuses are often hardly visible, thanks to the prominence of the lobe.
Tendrils: intermittent.
Bunches: large or medium sized, light, dense, short bunch stem, with slight woodiness.
Grapes: average and uniform. Elliptically shaped, between 15/22mm, hard; a yellowy-green skin, golden when ripe, very sweet. A soft and succulent pulp, slightly bland. Short and sticky pedicles. Produces musts with a potential alcohol of between 11 and 13º.

Despite the part that Sercial, Verdelho, Boal, Bastardo, Terrantez and Tinta da Madeira have played in the history of Madeira wine, Malvasia is without a doubt the variety that has made the wine famous since the days of the first settlers. There are a number of varieties of Malvasia planted on the island, including Cândida, Roxa, Babosa and Malvasia itself.

Tradition has it that Malvasia was the first variety to be introduced to the island by order of Prince Henry the Navigator, who in 1445 ordered the first shoots to be brought from the Mediterranean.

In Madeira, Malvasia has flourished in coastal areas along the southern side of the island, stretching through Fajã dos Padres (Campanário), Paúl do Mar, Jardim do Mar, Arco da Calheta, Madalena do Mar, Sítio do Lugar (Ribeira Brava) and Anjos (Canhas).

Today, it is mostly found growing at altitudes of between 200 and 300 metres on the north side of the island in São Jorge, Arco de São Jorge and Santana, (all towns in the district of Santana). However, the best Malvasia grows on the south of the island, specifically in Câmara de Lobos, Estreito da Calheta and Campanário. The near mythological Malvasia grapes grown in Fajã dos Padres, now produce no more than token quantity of wine.

Malvasia represents approximately 5% of the total volume of grapes produced on the island, and is, together with Boal, the most widely planted white grape variety. The most commonly planted Malvasia variety is that of Malvasia de São Jorge, but fortunately the movement to reconvert vine stock has encouraged the resurgence of Malvasia Cândida, which thrives when planted in sites at low altitude.

Malvasia produces the darkest, richest, most characterful, full bodied and fruity of all Madeira wines. It gives a smooth texture and a full body to the best wines, urbane and reminiscent of sultanas, but retains a streak of acidity which stops the wines from becoming cloying. Wines made from this variety are often known as Malmsey, from the anglicised version of Malvasia.

Vine: vigorous and only considered to be abundantly fertile in the first years after plantation. Prone to oidium and mildew.
It is particularly sensitive to location, and climatic conditions.
It thrives at low altitudes (approximately 100 to 200 metres above sea level) in sites where good exposure to the heat of the sun protects it from the humidity and mildew to which it is extremely sensitive.
Shoots: with greyish – yellowish tones or nut brown with short or average internodes.
Leaves: rounded, of medium size, nearly smooth on both sides, with 5 deep lobes, usually sharply pointed; uneven serrations, triangular, pointed; lateral sinuses almost always tracing an open U shape, with an open footstalk, also shaped as a U.
Tendrils: intermittent.
Bunches: medium to large bunches, conically shaped, compact or slack, almost always very light; medium bunchstem, slightly woody.
Grapes: of medium size, rounded, generally between 17/20 mm; soft or slightly firm; with a yellowy – green colour, golden when ripe; susceptible to pruinose (a fine powder or waxy bloom). Large and woody pedicles (stalks) a clear pulp, soft in consistency, not very succulent and with a distinctive taste. Produces must with potential alcohol of no more than 13º.

Tinta Negra is the most widely planted variety on Madeira, cultivated mainly in Estreito de Câmara de Lobos and Câmara de Lobos on the south of the island, and in São Vicente on the north. It currently represents 85% of the total production of the island’s grapes.
Although its history is unknown, it is sometimes thought to be the result of a cross between Pinot Noir, the great burgundy red grape variety, with Grenache.

For many years, this variety was unjustly denigrated, in favour of the other varieties that made Madeira wine famous.

Tinta Negra is a versatile variety, resistant to disease, and produces well. Traditionally, it is thought if local methods are followed during production, that wines made from this variety will take on the characteristics of other varieties according to the altitude that that the grapes came from.

This belief meant that a number of wines made using Tinta Negra, were in fact labelled with the names of the noble grape varieties. This was particularly prevalent in the periods following the decimation by oidium and phylloxera of the island’s vineyards. In fact, after phylloxera had devastated the island’s vine stocks, particularly those of Sercial, Verdelho, Boal and Malvasia, Tinta Negra, rather than the original variety was commonly used to define a style of Madeira.
Opinion about the capabilities of Tinta Negra has since changed. When the ripening period is monitored, and providing careful vinification is carried out, overseen by a skilful oenologist, Negra Mole is capable of producing interesting, and high quality, wines.

Vine: vigorous and very productive; of medium thickness; adherent bark, dark brown; and infrequently attacked by cryptogenic diseases.
Shoots: short and thick; a red-grey, light brown or chestnut red colour; short internodes.
Leaves: medium. Unequal and irregular in shape, sometime a little concave, slightly downy on the upperside, and some with visible lobes, the upper ones deep and pointed, or obtuse, others with only lightly traced lobes; triangular or closed serrations; usually with a red tinge when adult; heartshaped footstalk.
Tinta Negra is easily identified by its leaves, which in autumn are an intense scarlet colour, with red patches.
Tendrils: few.
Bunches: medium to large bunches; globular or elliptical – globular grapes, equal or unequal, of 12/18mm, soft or not very hard, red with a clear colour
Grapes: medium and uniformly round, generally between 12/25mm; not very hard, a red colour when ripe; and not very waxy. A clear pulp, medium consistency, very succulent. The musts are not particularly concentrated, with a potential alcohol of between 9 and 12ºC.


As far as Madeira wine is concerned, it is certainly true to say that "the older the better". The best Madeira wines are the oldest, in particular those known as "Frasqueiras" or "Garrafeiras". However, there are also others Madeira wines of excellent quality available on the market.

The majority of Madeira wines are made up from blend of different grape varieties. The red grape Tinta Negra, is usually the predominant variety in these blends. This style of Madeira is then presented to the market according to the time it has spent aging in oak casks or vats, labelled as "Madeira Wine".

Single varietal wines are also made, including Sercial, Verdelho, Bual (or Boal), Malvasia and Terrantez. These wines are branded and presented to the market according to their grape variety, as Colheitas (see below) or by the number of years spent aging in cask.

Traditional mentions for wines with indication of the year of harvest.

Frasqueira or Garrafeira
Reserved reference to the wine with indication of the vintage year and recommended vine variety, produced by the canteiro system and submitted to minimum continuous ageing of 20 years in wooden casks showing organoleptic characteristics of exceptional quality, where the bottling year should be indicated and it should have a specific current account before and after bottling.

Reserved reference to the wine with indication of the vintage year, that has been aged continuously in wooden casks during at least 5 years and shows special organoleptic characteristics, where the start of the ageing process should be indicated to the IVBAM, PI - RAM at least 5 business days in advance, as well as its end, with indication of the bottling year and it should have a specific current account.

Reserved reference to the wine produced by the canteiro system, which shows special organoleptic characteristics and whose base wine is of only one harvest and just one recommended vine variety and submitted to a minimum continuous ageing of 5 years in wooden casks, which constitutes the base of a batch. After this period, a quantity that does not exceed 10% can be removed annually from each of the casks, which is replaced by the same quantity of another younger wine of the same variety, up to the maximum of 10 additions. Only after the existing wine has been submitted to this process can it be bottled as Solera. Each of the additions and each bottling should be communicated to IVBAM, PI - RAM, at least 5 business days in advance. This reference should be accompanied by indication of the harvest year of the base wine, the vine variety and the bottling year and it should have a specific current account before and after bottling.

Traditional mentions for wines with indication of age

Reserva, Velho, Reserve, Old or Vieux, wine in conformity with the standard of 5 years old;

Reserva Velha, Reserva Especial, Muito Velho, Old Reserve, Special Reserve ou Very Old, Madeira wine in conformity with the standard of 10 years old;

Reserva Extra or Extra Reserve, Madeira wine in conformity with the standard of 15 years old.

They may also be used in labeling according to the production process, color, structure and other characteristics, one or more of the following designations.

Canteiro – Madeira wine fortified during or right after fermentation, being submitted to ageing in wooden casks for a minimum period of 2 years, it should have a specific current account and cannot be subjected to the heating production process (estufagem) nor bottled with less than 3 years, counted as of 1 January of the year following that of the harvest.

Rainwater – Wine with a pale to golden colour, with a Baumé degree between 1.0 and 2.5, which may also be associated to the indication of maximum age of 10 years or other equivalent. 

Seleccionado, Selected Choice or Finest - Madeira wine showing special quality for the age in question.

Fino or Fine – Madeira wine of quality with perfect balance.

Wine with Indication of Age

Madeira Wine with the right to the use of the designation of age, when its quality is in conformity with the respective standards, with the permitted age indications being the following: 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 and over 50 years old. 

As far as the degree of sweetness the different styles of Madeira wine are classified as follows:
Dry - with less than 1.5º Baumé.
The classification “Extra Seco” can is used when Baumé is less than 0.5º.
Medium Dry – between 1.0º and 2.5 Bé.
Medium Sweet – between 2.5º and 3.5 Bé.
Sweet (Doce) – over 3.5º Bé.


Harvest usually starts in the last week of August and continues throughout September. The vinification department in the Madeira Wine Institute (Instituto do Vinho, Bordado e Artesanato da Madeira) declares the official start and end date for harvest.

Grapes may be harvested earlier than official date if authorised by the IVBAM. This is exceptional and tends to happen when the maturation of the grapes is likely to be accelerated by hot, sunny, dry weather.

Location and the weather conditions during the development of the grape are the most influential factors in the decision to bring forward the date of harvest. It is most commonly done where there are older vines and/or to vines planted in the southern, sunnier areas of the island, notably in the region of Câmara de Lobos.

In a typical year, harvest will begin two weeks later on the north facing slopes, which are cooler and have more rainfall.

For the production of fortified wine, the vineyards are allowed legal maximum of 80 hl of must per hectare with a minimum of naturally occurring alcohol of 9%. The IVBAM can chose to alter this limit, taking into consideration the specific conditions of the period.

Vines are grown on the hillsides of the island, in small terraces or walled areas known as “poios”. These stretch all the way to the sea, surrounded by supportive grey basalt stone walls, which make mechanisation almost impossible.

Picking the grapes by hand is the only viable harvesting method in Madeira, due both to the geophysical conditions of the island and because most grapes continue to be grown traditionally, trained along low pergolas over the soil. The work of maintaining, treating and harvesting the grapes is greatly complicated by this trellis system.

As a result of these factors, the effort of working a vineyard and the cost of cultivating the grapes is extremely high.

There are changes to the island’s vineyard landscape happening at this point in time. Some new vineyards are being planted in the more efficient espalier layout.

The Portuguese system of dividing the land between each member of successive generations is the reason that Justino’s Madeira Wines like most other Madeira wine producers, do not have their own vineyard. There are numerous growers spread throughout the island that supply grapes to our winery during harvest.

The price paid for the grapes to the growers varies according to the condition of the fruit and the level of alcohol in the grape. The company will decide the prices and inform the growers of these at the beginning of each season.



The production of Madeira wine begins when the grapes are selected during harvest. The quality of the wine depends first and foremost on this selection. We try to keep to a minimum the length of time between the picking and the pressing of the grapes, given the fact that this is vital to maintaining quality. By using small boxes to carry up to 30 - 50kg, the grapes can be quickly transported, avoiding the risk being crushed under their own weight, or allowing fermentation and oxidation to begin, with a corresponding loss of flavour.

The grapes are sorted on arrival, primarily to check their condition. Then they are weighed, and the probable level of alcohol is measured. The grapes are then selected for vinification, according to the different styles of wine to be made.

An incentive scheme is in place by which payment varies according to the level of alcohol found, thereby encouraging the growers to allow their grapes to ripen as fully as possible.

The white grape varieties, Sercial, Verdelho, Boal, and Malvasia, go through the vinification process entirely separately to other varieties. However, the various red grape varieties, primarily Tinta Negra, and Complexa are vinified together. The nature of the must produced by the various varieties is directly a result of the soil type and climatic conditions of the area in which they were cultivated.


The grapes are completely destalked before any crushing, extraction, pressing or fermentation takes place. This ensures that the stringent and bitter flavours of the stalks do not taint the wines.

After destalking, vinification follows one of two distinct formats:

Crushing, extraction, pressing and fermentation
Crushing, fermentation, extraction and pressing

In either case, fermentation (with or without skin maceration) is regulated by temperature controlled stainless steel vats.

In the case of fermentation on the skins, the pumping over is automatically controlled.


Fermentation is stopped by the addition of grape spirit in order to obtain wines with different levels of sweetness.

The grape spirit is added at an exact point in time, chosen to reflect the style of wine being created. The grape neutral spirit is 96% proof, and its addition stops fermentation almost instantaneously.

Malmsey, Bual and other sweet or medium sweet Madeira wines are fortified first, in order to guarantee a higher level of residual sugar. Fermentation of Sercial, Verdelho and other dry or medium dry Madeira wines runs until almost all the natural sugar found in the grape has been converted into alcohol. After fortification, the wines achieve between 17 % and 18% of alcohol by volume.


After fortification, clarification and separation into different batches has taken place, but prior to being aged in oak casks, the majority of wines undergo the process of “estufagem”. Estufagem” is a traditional method of heating the wine, unique to Madeira. The wine is placed into stainless steel vats which are heated by coils of hot water (the “estufas”). The vats are heated for up to 3 months to temperatures of between 45 and 50 degrees C.

The Madeira Wine Institute (IVBAM) controls this process, during which time the vats remain sealed. In order to monitor the quality of the wine, samples are taken to be analysed both before and after estufagem.

Madeira wine which has not undergone estufagem is known as “canteiro”, “vinho – canteiro”, or “vinho de canteiro.” Once these wines have been clarified, corrected and divided into different lots, these wines are aged in oak casks. This system is used for all wines that have been made from white grape varieties, namely Malvasia, Boal, Verdelho, Sercial, and sometimes those of Tinta Negra.


The best wines begin the aging process in oak casks or vats, of varying sizes, whether or not they have been through the estufagem process.

The aging process uses casks or “tonels” made from French, American or Portuguese oak, of 300, 350, 450, 650, 1.200 to 2.450 litres in size. The wooden vats, also made of French oak, hold anything between 9.600 to 42.000 litres.

A wine’s quality, character and potential determines its selection for aging. The wine develops a uniquely complex and intense flavour thanks to the oxidation it undergoes as a result of aging in cask in a subtropical climate.

The length of time a wine is left to age is a technical decision, depending on the style of wine to be created, and market demand.

The oenologist and technicians at Justino’s Madeira continually taste the wine throughout the aging process to monitor its evolution and quality. During this time, the wine is racked, divided into barrels and undergoes any necessary corrections, in order to ensure that it continues to develop in a balanced and harmonious fashion.

Justino’s, Madeira Wines, S.A., is dedicated to safeguarding and improving the acknowledged quality of its wines.

By monitoring and controlling the ripening of the grapes and developing ever closer relationships with the growers, and by using modern technology and rigorously controlling the vinification, estufagem, and aging of the wine, we continuously improve the quality of our wines, particularly the younger ones. This allows us to offer wide variety of Madeira wines to our consumers.



From the mid XVIII century onwards, the production of Madeira wine kept increasing until the 1820’s.

The vineyards on the island were able to evolve to meet market demand, and the British influence in Madeira helped secure a privileged destiny for Madeira.

In fact, the overwhelming popularity of Madeira wine was largely due to the nature of European and colonial political and economic reality. During periods of conflict, the colonies were closed off from Europe, and this opened up a ready market for the island’s wines. The colonial market weighed so heavily on the island’s capacity to supply wine, that there were times when demand exceeded supply. In the face of unbridled demand, and given the low volume of quality wine available, the shippers resorted to exporting inferior wines, previously destined for internal consumption, or for distillation to produce brandy.

In order to meet demand, attention turned to increasing the volume of grapes grown on the island, and less care was taken in the production and aging of wines. When market demand from Europe normalised, the Madeiran economy slid into recession.

Madeira wine began to fall in popularity, due not to the competition from other wines, such as Port and Sherry, but also because of the poor reputation the wine had in its traditional markets. This was as a result of the low quality of exported wine, and also because of a number of cases of fraud. All this meant that the price paid for Madeiran wine fell considerably.

The impending crisis in Madeira’s viniculture was anticipated by the arrival of oidium (Oidium tuckerii or “powdery mildew”) on the island in the mid nineteenth century. Oidium was more commonly known to the Madeiran’s as "mangra". Some years later, the appearance of phylloxera provoked further change in the island’s viticulture.

Despite natural disasters and the oidium and phylloxera plagues, Madeira wine survived, and is today one of the mainstays of the island’s economy, together with tourism and the banana crop.


Oidium came from the United States and was first detected in Europe in 1847 when it was found in France. It is alleged that it reached Madeira in 1851, and said to have been brought in with some imported plants. Included amongst these were some French varieties, which are thought to have been infected by the fungus.

The disease spread rapidly throughout the island encouraged by the subtropical, warm and humid climate. It attacked the areas of Funchal and Machico with particular force, and devastated the majority of the island’s vineyards, resulting in a predictable decimation of production and quality of wine. The effect it had on the island’s economy was quickly felt; given that viniculture was the main source of earnings. In only three years (1852 – 1854) the production averages fell from 50,000 hl to only 600 hl.

Brushing the vines with sulphur proved to be the best method of treating and preventing the disease. Some of the vines were saved; but this did not stop the farmers from turning their attention once again to the cultivation of sugar cane rather than replanting their vineyards.


One of the reasons that phylloxera successfully invaded Europe is because of the oidium plague, which resulted in growers turning to vine stock resistant to oidium.

This vine louse probably had a greater effect on the production of wine than any other plague or disease. Until phylloxera arrived, most vines were planted on their own roots, that is to say they were not grafted.

The desperate search for a remedy to the oidium crisis, led the growers to plant the Vitis Labrusca (Isabella) variety, which was oidium resistant, and first arrived on the island in 1865. However these proved to be carriers of an even more ferocious disease that would create a far greater devastation than the last, until a means of controlling phylloxera could be found.

The first symptoms of the disease were identified in São Gonçalo and São Roque in 1872, but it quickly spread throughout the island and was still active as late as 1908. It is estimated that in 1883, 80% or more of the island’s vineyards were infested by phylloxera.

In varieties susceptible to the disease, which includes those of the Vitis vinifera species, (commonly known as viniferous or European stock) the louse feeds off the sap in the plant. The action of biting into the roots causes nodules and warts to grow, which develop into fissures, causing the root to rot. As the roots rot, the leaves on the vines begin to lose their colour, a sign that the vine is withering and soon to die.

In 1883, only 500 ha of the 2500 ha of vineyards planted before phylloxera struck were still extant.

The European varieties, that had once existed on the island and that had been the basis of the fame of Madeira wine, were almost completely wiped out. Malvasia survived only in Fajã dos Padres.

Just as in France, every effort was made to control and halt the progress of the plague. The practice of flooding the vineyards for some weeks during the winter, successfully tested in France, was not viable given the layout of the terrain.

Despite having had some limited success, the use of sulphide injections had no effect in most places.

It was the practice of grafting a European variety onto phylloxera resistant American root stock that proved to be the most successful way to combat the disease. As a result, the island’s vines were no longer planted on their own stock, but slowly replanted with the grafted varieties.

The resistance developed by American vines to phylloxera comes as result of the formation of layers of bark covering the wounds inflicted by the louse as it feeds. The formation of this protective layer successfully prevents the invasion of other fungi or bacterium, which would eventually lead the roots to rot, and the vine to die. As phylloxera is native to North America, it is no surprise that various endemic American root stocks have evolved a method of defence against this disease.

When these resistant varieties are attacked by the louse, their only reaction is the development of a small growth on their leaves, as the roots no longer suffer any real damage.

In 1882, the Anti-phylloxera commission on the island became responsible for the distribution and re-plantation of vineyards, using shoots of American varieties handed out for free to the growers. Two nurseries were established, and by 1883 some 60,000 vines had been distributed. However, it was not an easy task to replant the island’s vineyards. It took some time for the vine to regain its economic strength on the island; the growers were unmotivated, many of the English merchants had left the island, and the turmoil felt in one of the wine’s major markets, the English colonies, all contributed to the difficulties felt at the time.

Experience showed that not all the American varieties were able to adapt to the growing conditions on the island, or were incompatible with the traditional varieties. The preferred stocks were Vitis riparia, Herbemont, Cunningham and Jacquet (Black Spanish), all of which were well suited to conditions on the island.


It is almost certain that the first settlers brought with them the first vines from Portugal. Later on, Mediterranean vine stock was introduced.

Following the instructions of the King of Portugal and Prince Henry the Navigator, the governors of the Madeiran archipelago, João Gonçalves Zarco, Tristão Vaz Teixeira and Bartolomeu Perestrelo, cleared the earth and planted various crops brought in from Portugal. These included sugar cane from Sicily, and vines from Candia in Greece, specifically the vine stock known as Malvasia.

According to contemporary sources, the Venetian explorer, Cadamosto, visited the island in 1455 and was amazed by the vineyards that had been established in such a short time in Funchal, as well as by the quality and quantity of wine produced.

The decline of the sugar industry came early on in the history of Madeira, although not before it had significantly contributed to the island’s wealth, and to its socio-economical and cultural development. The industry declined partly as a result of competition from other sugar producing areas, mainly Brazil and Central America, and also because of the restricted size of agricultural land on the island.

As a result, vines became the most important crop in Madeira, the focus of knowledge and effort for the farmers, and the driving force in the island’s economy.

Due to this reliance on a monoculture crop, Madeira quickly become dependant on external markets and imported goods. As wine made in Madeira became a marketable commodity, and trading with other nations became established, the English quickly became influential. Many of the early merchants were English, who began to dominate the marketplace in the exchange of Madeira wine for wheat and American corn, European textiles and manufactured goods.

The island’s location in the Atlantic close to the various trade routes between Europe and the Indies, North America, Brazil and Africa brought innumerable advantages. As well as becoming a vital trading post, Madeira was left on the margins of the various conflicts that besieged Europe, such as the war of Austrian succession (1740 – 1748), the Seven Year War, the French Revolution (1789) and the ensuing blockade of continental trade (1806). Only the war of American Independence (1776 – 1790) profoundly affected Madeira, as a result of the instability of one of the major markets for Madeira Wine.


The evolution of the wine trade has always been closely linked to the political and economic reality in Europe and her colonies. Madeira was brought under England’s sphere of influence and given a key role as a result of various treaties, dating from the seventeenth century onward.

At the time, England’s trade laws (Navigation Act 1660) stipulated that all exports to English colonies could only be undertaken by ships of English provenance, sailing from and returning to London.

However, as result of the marriage between Catherine of Braganza and Charles II of England, the Staple Act (1663) was passed. Thanks to this, Madeira and the Azores were exempt from the prohibition of the Navigation Act, and became key suppliers for wine.

The various treaties between England and Portugal strengthened the position of the English merchants on the island, and the growth of the wine trade is intimately linked to the English presence in Madeira.

English merchants were quick to recognise the quality of wine produced in Madeira, and traded it widely throughout Europe and the colonies. In this way, Madeira became known as "the island of wine" to the English.

When North America was colonised by England in the seventeenth century, Madeira gained one of its biggest markets.

Over the years, Madeira Wine has become available in many other markets. However, the English were its first and most fervent appreciators, with records of imports dating back to the fifteenth century.


Madeira wine became well known throughout Western Europe early in its history. Its fame spread rapidly and gained many enthusiastic supporters throughout the world, especially in the more refined European courts. In fact, it was even used as perfume to scent the handkerchiefs of ladies in waiting.

In 1478, Edward IV, King of England (1442/1483) ordered the execution of his brother, the Duke of Clarence for the crime of treason. Ever since, the Duke’s name has been immortalised on bottles of Madeira wine, as, having heard news of his impending execution, he drowned himself whilst in the tower of London in a cask of Malvasia da Madeira (Malmsey).

There are many mentions of Madeira as the wine of choice in taverns and at high table throughout Shakespeare’s plays (1564-1613). In “Henry IV”, Falstaff is accused of having exchanged his soul for a chicken thigh and a chalice of Madeira.

From the mid sixteenth century, Madeira wine is found listed in the records of the cellars of the Tzars of Russia. Thanks to the fact that was widely available and, in comparison to other wines, proved highly adaptable to high temperatures, it became highly sought after in the British colonies, especially in North America. Noted families in Boston, Charleston, New York and Philadelphia discussed the merits of the best Madeira wines between themselves.

Frances I (1708/ 1765) boasted about his cellar of Madeira, and considered it "the richest and most delicious of all Europe’s wines".

Some of the heroes of the independence movement in the United States were fans of Madeira wine; as a result the wine became a symbol of the liberation of America, and the wine became part of the social fabric of North America.

In 1768, 100 pipes of Madeira wine destined for John Hancock (1737/1793), the first signatory of the American Declaration of Independence, were intercepted by an English man-of-war, and returned to Madeira after the intervening conflict. This conflict created a precedent for the event known as the “Boston Tea Party”, which marked the beginning of the war between England and her American colony.

The signing of the Declaration of Independence on the 4 July 1776 was toasted in Madeira wine.

Successive American Presidents, including Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), George Washington (1789 – 1797), John Adams (1735 – 1826), and Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826) have all greatly appreciated Madeira wine, keeping up a “presidential” tradition in the United States, where, it is said, Madeira is still used to toast Independence Day on every 4th July.

The “Vinho de Volta” that the then British consul, Henry Veitch offered to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815 has become famous amongst connoisseurs. Napoleon stopped in Madeira on his way to exile in St Helena. As the wine was not drunk, the merchants of Funchal requested its return. This wine is said to have been bottled in about 1840, and given the label “Battle of Waterloo”. During his visit to Madeira in 1950, Winston Churchill was one of the few men to have been given a bottle of this wine.



Until the end of the eighteenth century, all Madeira wine was matured using the “Canteiro” system. The “canteiro” system is a simple one; the casks rest on top of two trestles (approximately 2 to 3 palm widths high) for several years. The trestles were placed in the warmest areas of the warehouses, where various other processes such as fining the wine could also be carried out.

Due the long period of time needed to age a wine and the expense involved, producers found that this traditional method was unable to meet market demand.

Today, wines that are defined as “canteiro” wine are fortified immediately after fermentation, and matured in cask for a minimum of 2 years. The process of fining the wine can take place either before or after the wine has been placed in cask, depending on the producer’s methods.


In the past, Madeira found that its distance from European conflicts worked to its advantage. The various treaties established between Portugal and England, namely the Methuen treaty (1703), as well as the influence of the English Navigation Acts (1660 and 1665) also helped to position Funchal as the obvious choice for a supply port for ships on their way to Africa, Asia, and South America.

In the second half of the seventeenth century, ships on the way to India stopped in Madeira to pick up wine for trading purposes. Not all the wines were sold on arrival, so that some were returned to the producers in Funchal, having completed a long sea voyage.

Stored below decks, the wines were exposed to the heat of the tropics and to constant rocking from to the movement of the ships. On return to Madeira, it quickly became obvious that these wines had changed character during their time at sea.

The first reference to this happy change brought about by the transatlantic crossing dates from 1722, and then again at the end of the eighteenth century.

The wines gained in intensity of taste and smell, becoming more concentrated and complex. They showed similar characteristics to wines aged on the island by the “canteiro” process.

Shippers and merchants began to deliberately send wine as ballast to India, which became known as “Vinho de Torna Viagem”, “Vinho de Volta”, “Vinho de Roda da Índia” or “Vinho de Roda” on its return.

However, as a result of the cost of transport and the demand created by the wine’s reputation, Vinho de Roda was much more expensive than Canteiro wine. Vinho de Roda was particularly popular with the English market, where it outshone other Madeira wines.

As a result of the demand for Vinho de Roda the producers looked for an alternative method to create a wine of similar quality but in higher quantities, which would not incur the high transport costs nor take the time required by Vinho de Roda. As a result, the new and more rapid system of aging - “Estufagem” - was born.


The observation that Madeira wine was much improved as a result of its long sea voyage resulted in the creation of an aging system known as “Estufagem”. This system dates from 1794, and achieved similar results much more quickly and economically, enabling a wine to be prematurely aged and available on the market in little more than 3 months.

It was Funchal merchant, Pantaleão Fernandes who noted that the wine improved when kept in hot places, particularly those exposed to the sun. He heated his warehouses day and night with bonfires, and found the result exciting. Later on, the area in which heat was circulated through tubes was called an “Estufa”, from the word for “stove” or “glasshouse”. As a result of using estufas, the suppliers were able to meet the incessant demand for the wine. They successfully sped up the aging process to meet the requirements of an impatient market, and produced a prematurely aged wine, with similar properties to “Vinho de Roda”.

The advantages and disadvantages of the estufa system have long been debated. Some say that its misuse lay at the heart of the discredit and decay of the trade in Madeira wine, because it tended to produce a lesser quality wine, with an unpleasant toasted or burnt taste.

However, the problems created by estufagem were not entirely due to the process itself. At the heart of the issue was the tendency to use the process to age, and therefore to mask, wines of inferior quality. The temperature to which the wine was heated was also not controlled.

Wines of inferior quality were often heated for some months to temperatures of 60ºC or more, in order to overcome an astringent and acid base. This practice contributed to a lack of confidence in the wines produced in Madeira, reflected in falling prices and general consumer distrust.

Estufagem and Canteiro are both still in use today as part of the process of making Madeira wine. However, advances in oenology and technology mean that estufagem, when used in a controlled fashion, is a vital component in efficiently producing a balanced Madeira Wine.


The elegance and complexity of Madeira wine makes it a harmonious partner for many different foods.

Thanks to the unique range of flavours of Madeira wine, it can be drunk and appreciated at any time. The wine is best known as a dessert wine, but in fact it mixes well with a starter or main dish, and can be enjoyed at any point during a meal, or even on its own.

The mix of acidity and sweetness found in Madeira mean that it goes particularly well with certain food types, including dishes that are very flavoursome. It makes a good partner to lightly spicy or bitter dishes. Some gourmets say that Madeira is a wonderful wine to have with Eastern or Indian dishes. It is worth noting that Madeira goes well with Chinese food.

Sercial and Verdelho, and other light bodied dry or medium dry Madeira wines, which have marked acidity and low levels of residual sugar, make excellent aperitifs when served cool. They can also be served alongside canapés or entrees, such as certain types of smoked fish, caviar, olives, cured hams, duck and flavoursome dry fruits and nuts, such as hazelnut, almond or walnut.

Verdelho also goes well with light or creamy soups, and consommés. Verdelho is often added to consommés during the cooking process in order to bring out the flavours of the soup.

Boal and other medium – sweet Madeira wines can be served at the end of a meal, together with cheese, custard, crème – caramel, light puddings, fruit cakes and sweet cakes, tropical fruit or nut tarts, such as those made from figs, walnuts, dates, and plums.

Malmsey and other sweet Madeiras go well with dark chocolate, strawberries, pineapple and puddings made with coffee, such as tiramisu and coffee ice cream. They are also often served with traditional Portuguese desserts, such as a custard–crème, and rice pudding, or after the meal with coffee.

We recommend that Frasqueira and Garrafeira wines should be served on their own at the end of meal, possibly lightly chilled. Local tradition has it that they are the perfect partner to “Bolo de Mel”, the traditional Madeiran honey cake.

Madeira is one of the most frequently used wines in cooking thanks to its unequalled sensory range. Its use transforms the flavour of foods, making them more appetising. Unlike other wines, the characteristics of Madeira wine are not lost altered during the cooking process, despite the heat the wine is subjected to. 

Classic examples of cooking with Madeira, include steak in sauce Madère, figs steeped in Malmsey, veal or chicken with dry Madeira, mushrooms in a Madeira sauce, turtle soup, consommé with Madeira, and Madeira honey cake. 
Foie Gras and fresh pineapple with Sercial, duck breast with a hazelnut salad and Madeira vinaigrette, pea puree with Madeira, sauces to accompany veal, rabbit or game are all examples of a modern cuisine that uses Madeira for a final touch of flavour. 



Thanks to the time Madeira wine has spent aging in cask, and its evolution by oxidation, Madeira does not require as much care in the cellar as other wines. However, if kept in a cool, dark place, an opened bottle of Madeira will keep during months or even years without suffering any negative effects.

Of all fortified wines, Madeira is probably the one that ages best, and has the longest life span.

It is known that Madeira survives for 150 years or more in excellent condition. It is not unusual to find 100 year old bottles for sale in specialist shops. Wines from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are still to be found in aging in oak casks. Even through these wines may not have the requisite quality certificate they are often in excellent condition.

The prolonged exposure to oxidation during vinification, and the high levels of alcohol and natural acidity in the wines are all components that contribute to the ongoing longevity and stability of Madeira.

Despite its ability to age, Madeira is not a wine that evolves in bottle, and therefore it is not necessary to store it in the cellar in order to improve the wine.

Once bottled, Madeira should be stored upright. As it has already been oxidised, the wine will not be damaged by contact with air.

Although the natural acidity of wines contributes to their longevity, it can also lead to damaged corks. As a result the wine may be tainted or spoilt. Even if the wine is kept in optimal conditions, (where the temperature ranges between 10 - 13ºC and the humidity is at approximately 60%) the cork should be changed every 15 years.


As Madeira does not suffer once it has been opened, a bottle of wine can be enjoyed over a period of time.

Most Madeira’s are filtered before being bottled and will therefore not leave any deposit in the bottle. Therefore, decanting the wine is not usually necessary, although serving the wine in clear glasses allows the wine’s intensity and depth of colour to be appreciated.

If the wine has been kept for many decades in bottle, it should be decanted. This ensures that any deposits in the wines are removed, and allows the wine to “open” before being served. If possible, the bottle should be opened a day prior to serving.

The perfect moment to drink the wine depends on your personal taste, as well as on the style of wine, its level of sweetness, any accompanying food, and its age.


The importance of the temperature at which a wine is served should not be underestimated; it is a key factor in enjoying the wine to the full. Serving a wine at the correct temperature enables the taster to appreciate all the sensory delights of the wine.

Although there are a number of conventions that state how a wine should be served, these should be treated more as guidelines rather than absolute rules.

Just as with other wines, there is no hard and fast rule to dictate at what temperature Madeira is best appreciated. The different types of wine, the style in which it has been made, the food that is accompanying it, the producer’s recommendations, local traditions and personal taste are all variables that make it impossible to impose a set of firm rules to regulate serving temperature.

The most important factor is to ensure that the person drinking the wine enjoys it to the full; therefore personal preference should always come before any textbook or expert recommendations.

It is worth noting that a wine’s alcoholic character will be more accentuated the warmer the temperature at which it is served; and at cooler temperatures, its natural sweetness will be less marked.

In order to fully appreciate the aroma and taste of a Madeira wine, it should be served at between 15ºC and 18ºC (59ºF – 64ºF). This temperature will bring out the “maximum flavour” of any type of Madeira.

Generally speaking, in order to reach a consensus on what temperature a Madeira wine is best served at, the main factors to take into consideration are the level of sweetness in the wine, its age, and grape variety.

However, it is important to remember that the ideal temperature at which to serve the wine is primarily decided by your own personal experience and taste.

For the more experienced taster, the temperature at which a wine is served depends on the qualities that you wish to enhance. If you want to highlight the sweetness of the wine, its aromatic complexity and austerity, it should be served at higher temperatures, between 14ºC and 18ºC (57ºF – 65ºF). In this case the alcoholic nature of the wine will also be accentuated.

If you prefer to accentuate the wine’s freshness, a marked characteristic of some Madeira wines, it is more appropriate to serve it at a lower temperature, between 9ºC and 14ºC (48ºF - 57ºF).


Sercial and other dry Madeiras, which are light bodied and show marked acidity and with lower levels of residual sugars can be served cool. A temperature range of between 9ºC and 10ºC (48ºF – 50ºC) is ideal.

As these wines tend to be light bodied and with a high level of natural acidity, these wines are at their most refreshing without losing any of their character when served at low temperatures.

Verdelho and other medium – dry Madeira wines can be served slightly chilled, as they tend to be medium bodied with a certain level of residual sugars. As they are richer than Sercial and other dry Madeira’s, they benefit from being served at temperatures between 10ºC and12ºC (50ºF – 54ºF).

Boal and other medium – sweet Madeira wines are excellent when served slightly cool at temperatures between 13ºC and 16ºC (55ºF – 59ºF).

Malmsey and all sweet Madeira’s will be much appreciated when served between 16ºC and 18ºC (61ºF – 64ºF). However, if they are too sweet, they will benefit from being lightly chilled in order to reduce any overwhelming sweetness and making them less sickly on the nose and on the palate.

All old Madeira’s, namely those labelled as Garrafeira or Frasqueira wines and which have been made from the Sercial, Verdelho, Boal, Malvasia, Terrantez, Bastardo and Moscatel varieties, should be served at room temperature. This allows the complexity of aroma and flavour gained during their time in cask to come through.

Wine Styles Temperature
Sercial and other Dry Madeira Wines 9 - 10ºC (50º-54ºF)
Verdelho and other Medium Dry Madeira Wines 10° - 12°C (54°-57°F)
Boal and other Medium Sweet Madeira Wines 13° - 16°C (50°-54°F)
Malmsey and other Sweet Madeira wines 16°- 18°C (54°- 57°F)