Madeira: History

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

Like port, madeira seems to have begun as an unfortified wine. There are few early records but Madeira’s strategic position in the middle of the Atlantic put the island at an advantage and the island’s capital Funchal became a natural port of call for ships en route to Africa, Asia, and South America. By the end of the 16th century (less than 200 years after the discovery of the island), there is firm evidence that Madeira’s wine industry was well established. However, the early madeira wines were unstable and many deteriorated long before they reached their destination. Alcohol (probably distilled from cane sugar) was therefore added to some wines in order to help them survive a long sea voyage, although fortification did not become general practice until the middle of the 18th century.