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What is Madeira Wine?

Bartender serving a glass of Madeira wine.
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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 April 2014
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Madeira wine is actually a family of wines that originate in the Madeira Islands of Portugal. The various wines that are created using the methods that have been in common use for centuries can be utilized in a number of different ways. Some types of Madeira wine are ideal for cooking, while others are more suited for use with desserts or as an aperitif.

Madeira wine may be formulated to be a sweet wine or a dry wine. In all cases, the wines are fortified by a process that helps the finished product to enjoy a long life without minimizing the flavor or the aroma of the wine. In each case, the fortified wine undergoes a process of vinification that is somewhat unique to the fermenting process used in other parts of the world. The end result is that Madeira wine tends to have a distinctive flavor and bouquet that make it popular in many places around the world.

One of the distinctive elements in the process of making Madeira wine is the use of a high temperature for an extended period of time. This is accomplished by the construction of stone buildings that are known as estufas. The estufas normally are filed with compartments that house the wine during a long period where the wine is exposed to higher temperatures. The amount of time that the wine undergoes this exposure to high temperature helps to determine the type and quality of the end product.

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An advantage to this unique process is that the process tends to manage the fermentation in a manner that allows the wine to become somewhat pasteurized. The addition of grape brandy also helps to stabilize the fortified wine and aids in not only the uniformity of color but also to the long life of the wine once the bottle is opened. A properly fortified wine produced on the Madeira Islands can easily remain fresh and usable for a period of up to one year after the first opening.

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