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May 28, 2006

Buying, Storing, Serving

Where To Buy Madeira Wine
You should buy your Madeira wine at the place with the largest selection and the lowest prices: right on the island itself. Outside of Madeira, cheap blends are sold for high prices and Vintage Madeiras that are sold to the US, Europe or Japan are usually twice or three times the price that they were on the island. Another great plus on the island is the tasting. In the buildings of the producers you can taste all the blends for free, the vintages for a small fee. You can then buy your wine there, in one of the wine shops, or in the big supermarkets like Pingodoce or SuperSA. Within the European common market you can carry 90 liters of wine with you, when the alcohol content is under 22%. This makes 128 bottles with 0.7 liters of wine in it, so remember the weight limit of your luggage! It is more complicated with the US. At the joint forums of FTLOP and MWG this issue is covered in all aspects and any US citizens planning to go to the island of Madeira are advised to have a look at this site.

In some travel guides a small shop in Machico is mentioned as an insider tip to buy old Henriques & Henriques ten year old blends of Sercial and Malmsey. You are advised not to buy any of these wines. The firm of Henriques & Henriques told me, that these are three year old Tinta blends, dating from the time when it was allowed to write Sercial on the label, even though the bottle contained Tinta. The contents are no longer drinkable, since these blends where not intended for a long storage and some of the bottles had been in the window of the shop, being exposed to the sun. With a price of at least 30 Euros the bottles are also rather expensive.

Old Vintages at MWC

Old Vintages at MWC


To buy Madeira wine at home, you can try a wine shop or a big food store. In most cases you will find a medium sweet or medium dry wine, intended for cooking. Some large wine merchants, sometimes specializing on fortified wines, will have Madeira wine available, even vintages. The internet is a real alternative; try the big catalogues and/or search-engines for more information about wine shops on the WWW. Also a few shops addresses can be found in the bibliography section. Since Madeira wine is going through a small renaissance as an exotic, mysterious and indestructible wine with impressing age, it has become easier to find Madeira wine on the market. The bad side of this however, is that the stocks of good Madeira wine will be emptied even faster.

How To Store Madeira Wine
Bottles of Madeira wine should be stored in an upright position. A small gas exchange is supposed to keep the oxidized aroma and the contents of the bottle does not touch the cork. Otherwise the taste of the wine could suffer from the fact that the cork deteriorates faster than the wine. It is said that some bottles on the island of Madeira are kept upright in cool rooms without a cork but a plastic cap, though this I doubt. At home, in your wine cellar, you should change the cork at least every forty years or so. You can either do it yourself with the help of a manually operated corking device or you can bring your bottles to a reliable wine shop. If the level of wine in the bottle dropped considerably during storage and you have several bottles of the same wine, you can sacrifice one bottle and use it to fill up the others. The remaining wine might fit into a half bottle that you can buy in a wine shop. You could keep this half bottle for the next recorking (your children would have to do that, so label it exactly) or drink it up as a reward for successful recorking. Another way is to raise the level of wine in a bottle by putting small, sterile, glass balls into the bottle. You can do the recorking yourself or have somebody do it for you. Later in this guide you will find instructions on how to recork an old bottle. In any case you should take action when the level of wine reaches the lower end of the neck. Otherwise there will be to much space for air inside the bottle. If not already done so, you should cover the cork with wax to keep it from drying out. If the bottle is just corked with a short stopper, a good covering with wax or some layers of cellophane is extra important. A very secure way to store your vintage bottles is to seal them into a plastic bag usually used for freezers with a small device available for kitchen or laboratory use. This will also keep the label in top condition and the bottle free from dust.

How To Serve Madeira Wine
Before serving an old Madeira vintage you have to mind four facts. First, the bottle should be opened at least 24 hours before drinking, though 48hours or even more can be necessary. An occasionally present bad smell called bottle sickness needs this time to disappear. Decanting also helps. Second, since the cork is usually covered with sealing wax, you will have to get through the wax first. Break the wax by carefully hitting it with a table spoon, then peel off the pieces, similar to peeling an egg. Very old bottles should not be peeled but shaved with a sharp knife. Third, the cork can be in a bad condition so be careful and use a good corkscrew to get it out. If the cork breaks, pour the wine through a filter immediately. The best way to do this is to use a new coffee filter only to be used for filtering wine. Otherwise the broken cork could affect the taste of the wine. By filtering you will also get possible sediments out of the wine. This sediment will not affect the taste, but the wine will look better in the decanter. Once in the decanter, the wine will keep for quite some time, but a Sercial should be stored in the refrigerator. Fourth, it has been said that wine, kept over some weeks in a lead crystal decanter, will acquire some of the lead. For this reason, but also because even Madeira wine does not live forever, do not take to long to drink up the wine. If you want to keep it as long as possible, fill the decanter with nitro, available in your wine store, to get the oxygen out. A cleansed bottle with a good stopper cork also makes a nice decanter and you have the information about the wine on the bottle.

When you drink Madeira wine, be sure to have it at room temperature. Even Sercial should not be ice cold. The colder the wine is, the fewer aromas will evaporate. Since smelling is a big part of tasting, you would not have the full taste of your wine. The thought of putting ice or water into a Madeira wine is revolting - why not drink thin Pinot Grigio in the first place then? Once the decanter or the bottle of Madeira wine is on the table, it is an old-time custom to pass it clockwise, just like with port. Don't just let it stand there in front of you - pass it on!

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