Best Madeira Wines to Try

Like port, madeira is a fortified wine, but it’s made in a unique way on the lonely island of Madeira, which sits about 320 miles off the west coast of Morocco. Discovered by the Portuguese in 1419, Madeira was established as a stopping point on transatlantic voyages, where ships would stock up on food, water and wine. The wine was fortified with rum made on the island from the sugar cane that grew there to help preserve it on its journey, and as the ships passed through the tropics, the barrels of wine were exposed to oxygen and heat – usually the sworn enemies of wine, but which instead transformed it into something very special indeed.

These days, the heating takes place on the island itself, and it makes the wine entirely stable so it will last almost indefinitely, even after it’s been opened – I’m lucky enough to have tasted one made in 1827, which still tasted incredibly vibrant and fresh.

The four traditional ‘noble’ madeira grapes are sercial, verdelho, boal (also called bual) and malvasia (or malmsey), which are always made respectively dry, medium-dry, medium-sweet and sweet. But, the most widespread is the versatile tinta negra, used to make madeiras in all these styles and usually used for blended wines, rather than those from a specific vintage. All have a distinctive seam of acidity that means even the sweetest are never cloying, and all have the characteristic madeira notes of dried fruit, nuts, caramel, crystallised citrus peel and gentle, warming spice – the flavours of Christmas itself.

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I’ve recommended here some very affordable wines, but if you’re looking for a very special present from a certain year, head to Bovey Wines, which stocks some of the oldest madeiras on the market, made by the esteemed D’Oliveiras company.

Madeira wines to buy

Blandy’s Duke of Clarence

Blandys Duke of Clarence madeira wine

Named after the Duke of Clarence, who was famously drowned in a barrel of malmsey madeira in 1478 as a punishment for conspiring against his brother, King Edward IV. Made in a sweet style like malmsey, it’s a great introduction to madeira and is widely available. Great with mince pies, Christmas cake or pistachio and almond date bark, or add a splash to coffee or hot chocolate.

Henriques & Henriques 10-year-old sercial


Fantastic value for this elegant, bone-dry sercial. It’s a blend of wines, the youngest of which is aged for 10 years, although some may be much older than that. Expect dried apricots and roasted almonds with a bite of tart cooking apples, and serve chilled with crisps, nuts, hard cheeses or as a very classy accompaniment to a cheese toastie with date and tamarind chutney.

Justino’s Colheita 1999

Justino's madeira bottle

In Portugal, the term ‘vintage’ can only be used for port; for madeira, ‘colheita’ is used instead. This is a really splendid wine – rich and complex with layers of molasses, walnuts, dried figs and candied orange, but still lifted and fresh, with incredible, zesty length. A match made in heaven with blue cheese, it’s also surprisingly good with spicy, savoury food, so try it with a turkey curry.

Speedy serve

Madeira flip

Madeira flip cocktail graphic

A variation on an eggnog that makes it a retro drink to serve along with burnt leek and whipped ricotta canapés to kick off a party, or instead of (or as well as) pudding. You can use any kind of madeira, but might want to add a little more sugar, depending on its sweetness. For six people, whizz up 300ml of madeira, 300ml of brandy or whisky, 4 eggs and 1 tbsp of sugar in a blender with 4 cubes of ice. Pour into glasses and garnish each with a grating of nutmeg.

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