Portugal's great claim to fame in the wine world is undoubtedly the great ports produced in the Douro valley. Lesser known, and certainly far underrated, are its other great fortifieds produced on the tiny, volcanic island of Madeira. The wine, also called Madeira, is one of the most amazing and unique wines produced in the world.
Between the 16th to the 18th century Madeira built up a reputation as wines of quality. Madeira's strategic position in the Atlantic meant that it became an important port in the trade routes between Portugal and the West African coast. Along with with sugar (cane), wine was also one of the products traded from Madeira. Pipes of Madeira (around 600 litres each) were often used as ballast in the ships. Like port, Madeira was initially a strong, unfortified wine. However, the wines were unstable and deteriorated before arriving at their destination. Merchants who knew about Port wine’s fortification with brandy decided to apply the same technique, since there was enough molasses from sugar cane plantations to ferment and distill. With the addition of the distillates madeira became stable and as many voyages proceeded through the tropics it was found that the hot weather improved the wine even further.
The mid 19th century, however, saw things change very rapidly. First, the discovery of powdery mildew in 1851 severely reduced production for around three years. Just as recovery was beginning came the phylloxera epidemic that had plagued most of the European wine regions. By the end of the 19th century, there was only 500 hectares of vineyard left as most of the island's vineyards had been ripped up and were converted to sugar cane production. In addition many vineyards that did replant choose to use American rootstock as Europe had done, as well as using hydrid varieties such as Cunningham and Jacquet which were prohibited in Madeira production.
Over this time period Madeira Madeira lost it's market share and, as quality also dropped, struggled to regain it. The wine industry in Madeira has certainly suffered with only six winemakers left from over sixty once in existence. The tide, however, is slowly turning with wine producers set on improving wine quality, and with some replanting of the noble four. Interest from the public is also slowly returning.
This wine is the single harvest from Henriques & Henriques produced from 100% Tinta Negra Mole. Tinta Negra Mole is the workhorse grape in Madeira and makes up roughly 85% of total vines planted. A cross between Grenache and Pinot Noir it is said that this grape does not produce Madeira of the same quality as that produced from the four nobles Malvasia, Sercial, Verdelho and Bual.
Here is what I thought of it:
Deep honey, gold, almost marmalade-like in colour. The nose is quite piercing with sweet toffee and caramel. On the palate its all honey, toffee, caramel along with some hints of apple. Some citrus-like freshness balances the sweetness beautifully. The finish is a little bitter burnt orange and completes with considerable heat. I have very little experience with Madeira but I found this a nice entry-level Madeira that I really enjoyed.