^ Madeiras from top producers such as D'Oliveiras can be laid down to age for decades
Although Madeira often plays second fiddle to its fortified cousins, port and sherry, it has an enviable history. It was served at the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and at the inauguration of George Washington; it was also on board HMS Endeavour to help ward off the effects of scurvy on Captain James Cook’s crew as they headed for the South Pacific.
During these sea voyages, as the ships passed through the tropics, the Madeira casks were heated and cooled, and people soon began to notice how the wine’s flavour became deeper and richer as a result – and made them last almost indefinitely. It’s not uncommon to find Madeiras aged for decades – indeed, two IWSC award-winners in this category are 40 years old: D'Oliveiras Boal 1980 and Blandy's Malmsey 1981.
There are four key styles of Madeira, starting with the dry, tangy Sercial, then medium-dry Verdelho, followed by the nutty and cinnamon-tinged Bual, and finally, rich, sweet Malmsey. You’ll also find both non-vintage and vintage bottlings – look out for the wonderfully named Rainwater, a light, refreshing, medium-dry style.
Bartenders and mixologists have recenly helped give exposure to Madeira as a cocktail ingredient, particularly in ‘split-base’ drinks, where Madeira replaces half of the base ingredient to take the cocktail in a new direction – tiki drinks made with 50:50 rum and Madeira work particularly well.
Glorious, abundant nose of buttery caramel, dried figs and hazelnut nougat. Generous lashings of Seville orange marmalade, dried dates and candied walnuts are cut through by puckering acidity and underpinned by a lusciously full mouthfeel, making for a seriously stylish wine. 20% RRP £145 from Delicias UK
Beautiful nose of white grapefruit zest, walnuts and dried currants, then incredible depth and fabulous balance on the palate between honeyed sweetness, intense marmalade flavour, spicy oak and fine acidity, all knitted together to create the smoothest texture. 20% RRP £79 from Theatre of Wine
Exotic and richly spiced on the nose, with dried apricots, nutmeg and honey-drizzled banana, developing into a finely textured palate of deep marmalade and nutty almond biscuit character. 21% RRP £205 from Lay & Wheeler
Tinta Negra 1997
Leaping out of the glass with dried banana, white chocolate and searingly dry walnut character. Lively on the palate with orange zest and biscuity flavours. Fantastic balance and acidic structure. 20% n/a in UK
Colheita Verdelho 2008
Clean, youthful nose of orange blossom and tangy marmalade, alongside subtle hints of tropical pineapple and succulent mango. Full-bodied and rounded on the palate with notes of cinnamon and sweet allspice. 20% n/a in UK