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Madeira

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Madeira
Photo by Jonathan Boncek

BEYOND FORMAL TOASTS AND FINE DINING, THE COLONIAL CLASSIC MAKES A COMEBACK

For the 200 years Madeira was in fashion—from the 1600s to the 1800s—it was all that wealthy Americans drank. Only the posh could afford it, but if you had money you savored Madeira before, during, and after dinner. And no part of the United States embraced Madeira’s magic more than the South.

But the twentieth century brought Madeira’s dark age, and it hasn’t been until recently that Madeira has begun its roaring comeback. Americans are reconnecting with their ancestral drink and rediscovering a wine that marvels in all of its styles, from refreshingly dry to lusciously sweet.

Made now, as then, on the island of Madeira nearly 400 miles off the coast of Africa, Madeira is also virtually indestructible. Rare bottles from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries can still be found in perfect condition, and even the wines made today thrive for months after being opened, making Madeira a treat for collectors. While many think of Madeira as a sweet wine, it is actually made in four basic styles of dry to sweet, with each style represented by a particular grape variety: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malmsey. Because of this broad range of tastes and sweetness levels, Madeiras offer remarkable versatility, making them appropriate for almost any occasion—a quality of the beverage that was never lost on our toast-happy Southern forbearers.

Madiera Pairings

SERCIAL / Great as an aperitif, with salted nuts and olives. Sercial also makes a classic companion to broth-based soups and aged cheeses.

VERDELHO / Sweeter than Sercial, Verdelho marrys well with much richer foods, including game, and a broader range of cheeses, including blues.

BUAL / Medium sweet, with notes of cinnamon and clove, Bual expands on Verdelho’s strengths by also marrying beautifully with a wealth of caramelized and spicy desserts.

MALMSEY / While Malmsey is usually too sweet for the early stages of a meal, it does go well with many cheeses (particularly blues) and is a marvel with dessert. It could be the wine world’s most gifted companion for chocolate.

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Jonathan Boncek