It’s true that many people around the world use the holiday season as an “excuse” to break out the Madeira.
Yet why should this be the case?
Madeira is one of the most delicious fortified wines in the world, of crucial historical importance. Countless people have built their fortunes on the Madeira trade, and of course, you can imagine how many partnerships (both corporate and romantic) have been finalized over a glass of Madeira over the centuries.
The two types of Madeira I’ll speak about today represent a sweet, as well as a dry, style. Both are perfectly acceptable to pair with certain dishes during a holiday (or any) dinner, though many people do like to enjoy them after dinner is finished.
The drier style, Sercial, is one of my favorites. I’ve enjoyed it many different ways – before dinner as an aperitif, with a dish such as caramelized scallops, and then just on its own after dinner when everyone else is having dessert. You can find Sercial in a range of ages (i.e. 10, yeear, 20 year) but I like the 10 year old Sercial because the fruit is still very concentrated, but it has a touch more freshness than the 20 year old.
The method of production is rather complex, but the basic information is that the grapes are harvested, fermented on the skins with a temperature between 18 – 20 C, and then fermentation is arrested with grape brandy after about four days, leaving the desired degree of residual sugar (it could be around 60 – 80 g/L of RS, but it does not taste that sweet because of the wine’s searing acidity).
At this point, the wine is transferred into seasoned American oak casks and put through the traditional “Canteiro” system in which the casks of wine rest in the lofts of the compnay’s lodge for several years. Then they are transferred from the top to the middle and finally the ground (cooler) floor before being racked, fined, blended, and bottled.
The maturation process takes three years at least, and is in direct contrast to the estufagem stystem, in which the wine is heated in an artificial fashion to reach the market faster.
I could easily have Sercial every day of the week, yet Malmsey is a richer, more opulent wine that just seems to go hand in hand with the holidays. It is great to pair Malmsey with fruitcake or chocolate cake, though some people enjoy it with Foie Gras. The method of production is similar, with the wine also being aged in the traditional Canteiro system.
All Madeira is delicious, but the Blandy family stands out for being the only family of all the original founders of the Madeira wine trade to still own and manage their original wine company. Blandy’s also has a fabulous web site that has detailed information about all their wines.
When you are thinking of gifting a bottle of wine for the holidays, consider Madeira. Incredible flavor, fascinating history, and absolutely the best value for the price.