Appears in

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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The extra stability was particularly useful for the wine industry of the Portuguese island of Madeira off the northwestern coast of Africa, because Madeira’s main markets were on the other side of the Atlantic, in the Caribbean and North American colonies. Madeira’s early wines, already documented in 1450, only 31 years after the island’s discovery, resembled Malvasia Candida, a sweet straw wine from Crete. Over the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, wine production on Madeira grew dramatically. In the eighteenth century the increasing affluence, sophistication, and one-upmanship of American planters and merchants resulted in the importation of ever-finer Madeiras, leading to the development of the many styles we know today: dry Sercial, medium-dry Verdelho, sweet Bual (typically with 4 to 5 percent unfermented sweetness) and sweet Malmsey/Malvasia (typically with 5 to 10 percent unfermented sweetness), each named after the grape variety used. They are offered either as colheita (vintage) wines from a single year (declared on the label), or as blended multi-vintage wines of a minimum age (e.g., Reserve, which is aged 5 years; Special Reserve, aged 10 years). Bual has a rich, raisin flavor, while the lusher Malmsey offers a more pronounced interplay of acidity and sweetness. Vintage wines of both types can age for a century or more. Rainwater, mainly exported to North America, is a lighter style of slightly sweet Madeira made primarily from the Tinta Negra Mole grape.