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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

16 March 2015

Madeira Madeira

14th February 2015

So I just realised that I haven’t said anything about Madeira!

The wine, not the island. And probably the original inspiration for coming here. For those who don’t know, Madeira is a style of fortified wine (so: related to sherry and port) only produced on the island of Madeira. It became very popular with the British in the heyday of our naval power, the time of Nelson, when we would use Madeira as a stop-off point on Atlantic voyages. Popularity waned in the twentieth century but as with most anachronisms it’s due for a revival.

There are only eight makers of Madeira on the island, so you can get to know them all with a little effort. We got chance to try some Blandys (the most recognised and most commercial brand – if you can call it commercial, when the production is still much lower than any major champagne house), some Henriques & Henriques (award-winning), some Justinos and then we also brought home some Borges on spec. The taste is more raisin-y and funky than the fruitier taste of port or the cleaner taste of sherry.

Madeira is an unusual wine, in that it theoretically just keeps getting better with age, even over a couple of hundred years. We’re used to the idea of expensive vintage wines, but even the grant Bordeaux reds “go over” after more than a few decades and become less than their best. Madeira doesn’t. And once you open the bottle, it remains good for as long as you can resist drinking it. Port afficienadoes will tell you that after opening it should really be finished in the next day or two to still be at it’s best. Not so Madeira. It’s a tough wine, squeezed from sun-baked vines grown on vertiginious volcanic mountain slopes, treated rough and kept for decades.

That’s why I like it.

We found the perfect accompaniment for Madeira in a traditional Madeiran spice cake called Bolo del Mel, and couldn’t resist bringing a couple of them home too, from the beautiful old bakery we found in a little Funchal side street. Our final day otherwise consisted of a walk on a windy headland (just… one… more… walk) and a quick lunch in a local restaurant before the plane home beckoned.

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