Madeira Wine

What is Madeira Wine?

Madeira is a fortified wine produced and bottled in Madeira - a Portuguese island off the coast of Morocco - using specific grape varieties, aged by the unique heating system, making use of the same ancient ageing techniques that have passed from father to son, from one generation to another. This iconic fortified wine is virtually indestructible.

Madeira wine is typically a mono-varietal wine, with each white varietal representing one of the four styles of Madeira. Dry, medium-dry, medium-rich and rich..

Historically, Madeira Wines were divided in two categories: the ones that bear a generic age - also known as Blends - and those who were produced from one single grape variety, and from one single harvest, which can be Colheita or Vintage.

An Accidental Wine

The heating of the wine during the ageing process is unique. Its origins came about during the era of discoveries in the 15th and 16th centuries when the sailing ships passed by the island to pick up fresh water and supplies, in the form of wine in barrels which were loaded onboard the visiting ships to provide much needed refreshments to the sailors, and to also act as ballast. Legend has it that on one particular round trip to India, the barrels of wine were returned to the producer on the island who discovered that the wine had improved considerably, which was attributed to the heating of the wine by the high tropical temperatures, as the ship had crossed the equator 4 times. For many years, the practice of shipping wines on a round trip became normal, and gave birth to the “vinho da roda” (round trip wines).

For centuries afterwards, shippers continued to send casks of their wines on long voyages, for no other reason than to develop greater character. Today, this ageing is replicated via the Estufagem and Canteiro methods in the wine lodges on the island.

With time, the practice of shipping barrels on a round trip became costly, and following the introduction of steam ships, the journey became much faster, and producers started using the “canteiro system”. As sales grew, and demand increased, producers were challenged to find a faster way of supplying their costumer’s needs, and as a consequence, the “estufagem” system was invented.

A Fortified Wine

Madeira became fortified over time. Fortification of the wine with brandy was introduced in the mid-18th century and today, the process continues with neutral alcohol at 96% strength. Today, all wines have in between 17,5% and 21% alcohol strength. How is Madeira Wine Produced? On arrival, all grapes are analyzed, classified, weighed and immediately processed to remove all the stalks, then crushed to remove the seeds and skins. The stalks are treated as waste, but the seeds and skins are collected in crates and given to the farmers for agricultural feed. Different vinification methods are used, according to the different grape varieties.

Tinta Negra Wines used to produce dry and medium dry wines aren’t subject to maceration, whilst medium rich and rich wines use maceration and auto-vinification techniques.

All white varietals are subject to pelicular maceration in order to gain the maximum dry extract from the grapes.

Fermentation takes place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks that are closely monitored and is stopped with the addition of natural grape spirit (96%) when the appropriate amount of natural grape sugar has been converted into natural alcohol.

The rich-style wines are fortified after approximately 24 hours whilst the drier style wines are left to ferment for 7 days before fortification.

Nowadays, two different ageing methods ae currently used: “estufagem” and “canteiro”.

The "Estufagem"

The process known as "estufagem" was introduced by a local physician called Pantelião Fernandes in 1794 as a consequence of increasing market demand. It has since been used in the production of 3 year old wines.

Today, once fortified, Blandy’s Madeira wines are transferred to large tanks and gently warmed up to temperatures of 45°C over a period of 4 months, and afterwards stabilized in in wooden vats for an additional period of two years.

After the gradual cooling of the wine in the 4th month, the wines are then left to age for 2 years in Brazilian satinwood vats. This process is only used with the Tinta Negra grape in the production of 3 year old wines.

Ageing in Canteiro

The word "canteiro" derives from the name of the traditional supporting beams on which the oak casks are placed. This unique process consists in the ageing of the wines in casks for a minimum period of 4 years stored under the rafters of warm attics, exposed to the natural warmth of the sun that gently heats the wine.

Wines produced in the "canteiro" system are stored in casks by the variety name and vintage year, and under the ancient rafters of the lodge. The casks are gently warmed by the natural occurring heat of the sub-tropical climate, and the wines acquire a unique and concentrated character, resulting from the “angel share”, which is the name given to the reduction that the wines undergo during their ageing. The casks are never 100% full, which allows the wine to slowly oxidize and to transform the primary aromas into tertiary aromas or the classical “Madeira Bouquet” of spices, roasted nuts, dried fruits smoke, amongst many others.

After a few years on the highest and warmest level, the wines are moved down to successively lower floors and cooler levels. Years pass and eventually the wines reach the ground floor to finish ageing. This ancestral and totally natural process is called ‘canteiro’ and is used for all our premium wines.

PDO Madeira

(Protected Designation of Origin) Main grape varieties distribution map
Protected Designation of Origin - Madeira

Grape Varieties



This is a white grape variety that probably originates from the region of Bucelas, near Lisboa, where it is traditionally grown under the name Esgana Cão (Dog Strangler), having been introduced in Madeira, where it was given the name Sercial.
The vineyards are located both on the north and south side of the island. At south, we find it at high elevations in Jardim da Serra, above Estreito de Câmara de Lobos, between 600m to 800m high, and at north, in the areas of Porto Moniz, São Vicente and Seixal, at lower altitudes, between 150 – 200m.
Sercial bunches are medium sized, thin skinned and the berries are prone to rot. It has a very late ripening and is resistant to oidium and mildium, being normally the last grape variety to be harvested. This slow maturation, the result of the terroir where it is grown, produces wines that rarely achieve more than 11% alcohol before fortification.
In Madeira Wine, due to its natural mouthwatering, tangy, crisp and racy acidity, balanced by its slight sweetness, Sercial is always used to produce dry wines, which are light bodied and exceptionally fresh, and present intense and vibrant aromas. Sercial begins its life pale in color, but over the course of time it deepens and darkens to amber.
It is not only an extraordinary aperitif or after-dinner wine (Colheita and Vintage) as it is the only Madeira Wine that can as well, if young, be enjoyed along a meal.


Verdelho can be found since the seventeenth century and was probably brought from northern continental Portugal during the early days of settlement on the island. Before the arrival of phylloxera in Madeiram, in 1872, Verdelho represented approximately two thirds of the vineyards of Madeira.
Today is the white variety with the largest area (47 hectares) in Madeira, especially on the north coast, in vineyards located in Ponta Delgada, and São Vicente, planted at altitudes up to 100m high. On the south coast, this varietal is located at altitudes above 400 metres in Prazeres and Câmara de Lobos.
This variety requires deep soils with some degree of moisture. It has low yields per ha and early ripening. Grapes are normally picked by the end of September, and produce gold coloured medium dry elegant wines which have a tropical and exotic character.
The varietal offers compact and small bunches with a few berries. The must has moderate sugar levels and a marked acidity. In Madeira Wine, Verdelho is always vinified to produce medium-dry fortified wines.


As most of the varietals on the island, Terrantez was brought from the north of mainland Portugal, where it goes by the name of Folgasão. For many centuries this varietal has always been used in the production of premium wines, achieving high prices in the market.

Rare, Terrantez grapes are white, thin-skinned and extremely fragile. The compact bunches and berries make it prone to botrytis and berry splitting. The yields are very low and ripening late.

Due to its fragile nature, it has been replaced by more prolific varieties, and was therefore almost brought to extinction. Lately, the family has persuaded growers to bring back production levels. Any Terrantez Madeira is rare enough to be worth trying.


Bual, or Boal as it is also called in Madeira, is a white grape variety that originated on the Portuguese mainland (or continente as it is known in Madeira) having been planted in the Douro and Dão for centuries, where it goes by the name of Malvasia Fina. This varietal name covers not one but 16 grape varieties in Portugal, as Cincinnato da Costa writes in “O Portugal Viticola”. In Wine Grapes (Robinson et al.) viticulturalist Rolando Faustino suggests that it is probably from the Douro but due to its wide genetic diversity neither Dão nor the Lisbon region can be ruled out.
In Madeira, Bual, with a total registered vineyard area of no more than 20 hectares is grown mainly in the southern coast of the island, where it is sunnier and warmer, as it does not perform well on the cooler and damper north side.
The best wines come from small plots (poios) in Campanário, Calheta, Arco de Calheta and Ponta do Pargo, to the west of Funchal, located at altitudes ranging between 100m and 300m above sea-level.
This varietal is quite vigorous and relatively easy to grow, only moderately susceptible to powdery mildew (Oidium) and botrytis bunch rot, and has a late budding, allowing it not be so exposed to the risk of spring frosts. Its bunches are large, and ripen early.
In Madeira Wine, thanks to its good acidity that balances the sweetness, Bual produces medium bodied, light copper-coloured medium sweet wines that are intensively perfumed, rich in spice and dried fruit, and achieve admirable longevity.
Malvasia (Malmsey)

Malvasia (Malmsey)

Malmsey should not be viewed as a single variety (there are so many different grapes named Malvasia) but as style of wine. In “Wine Grapes” (Robinson et al.) the authors make this point, stating that Malvasia is a generic name given to a wide range of distinct white-, pink-, grey-, or black-skinned varieties which share an ability to produce sweet wines high in alcohol. The planted area is now stable at around 39 ha (96 acres).
The majority of the Malvasia growing on Madeira is a grape known as Malvasia Branca de São Jorge, a white grape variety introduced as recently as the 1970s in the parish of Sao Jorge in the district of Santana, on the north side of the island at lower altitudes (150m – 200m). The bunches are large and conic, and usually show early budding and late ripening. It is the first to be harvested, having an early maturation. The grapes are sweet and produce rich full-bodied wines that are dark in colour. On the mouth, the bouquet reveals notes of spices and honey. It bears no relation to the prized Malvasia Candida, introduced to Madeira in the 15th century, of which there are now only 3 hectares growing on Madeira, exclusively on the south coast.
A young Malmsey Madeira is light golden in colour, whereas old Malmseys dark amber tonalities. Rich, smooth and luscious on the palate, showing complex notes of moka, dried fruit and honey, hints of tropical fruit, butterscotch, toffee-nuts and marmalade.
Tinta Negra

Tinta Negra

The only red grape variety used in Madeira Wine. Introduced after the phylloxera plague, this varietal has a thicker skin compared to the white varietals, higher yields, and more vigor. Versatile and productive, it accounts for approximately 80% of the island production, being used predominately to make 3 year old wines, although not exclusively.

Depending on the altitude, humidity, region and solar exposure, the grapes can deliver richer or drier wines. This varietal is diverse enough to be able to represent any one of the 4 styles of Madeira.

The family currently has large stocks of Tinta Negra ageing in oak barrels.
Madeira Wine Company
  • Plataforma 3, Pavilhão T
    Zona Franca Industrial da Madeira
    9200-047 Caniçal
    Madeira – Portugal

    Tel.: (+351) 291740 100

    e: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Madeira Wine Company Logo
Discover Madeira
Blandy's Wine Lodge
  • Avenida Arriaga 28,
    9000-064 Funchal,
    Madeira – Portugal

    Tel.: (+351) 291 228 978

    e: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

2023 © Madeira Wine Company S.A.