18 -January -Jan -2011

Harvesting

Madeira is a fortified wine found only on the mountainous Atlantic island of the same name.The vines are grown from sea level up to a height of 600 metres and the wines range from dry to very rich. The principal grape varieties are Malmsey, Bual, Verdelho, Sercial and Tinta Negra Mole.

The driest wines are made from the Sercial grape grown on high cool slopes mainly on the north of the Island. The sweetest Madeiras are made from the rich Malmsey grape which flourishes on the warmer lower-lying vineyards, particularly around São João on the north and Jardim do Mar on the south. The vines are grown either on pergolas (hanging off trellises that are on average 1.5 metres off the ground) or upright in rows, trained onto horizontal wires.

The harvest starts in mid-August and is completed by the middle of October when a wine festival takes place in Funchal. The grapes are all picked by hand from the small terraced vineyards situated on the steep slopes around the island and then transported to the 'adegas' -wineries- where the winemaking takes place.

18 -January -Jan -2011

Tinta Negra

Accounts for almost 90% of all grape production on the island. It is unique in its ability to acquire the characteristics of the different varietals according to the altitude at which it is grown (grown at a higher level it produces a drier wine whilst at a lower level a sweeter wine is produced), therefore becoming a most useful basis for blends.

18 -January -Jan -2011

Sercial, Dry

Sercial grapes produce the driest style in Madeira wine and are mostly found on the south of the island at jardim da Serra in Estreito de Camara de Lobos at an altitude between 600-700 metres and on the north side at Porto Moniz and Seixal at 150-200 metres.

Sugar content: 11º
Residual Sugar: 0.5 - 1.5º Baumé
Grapes picked late-on in the harvest.
Pale, light-bodied and dry, this is a fresh invigorating wine.

18 -January -Jan -2011

Verdelho, Medium Dry

Grown on the north of the island at Ponta Delgada & São Vincente at an altitude up to 400 metres.

This grape variety is suited to harsher climatic conditions.
Sugar content: 11º-12º
Residual Sugar: 1.5 - 2.5º Baumé
Grapes picked during middle of harvest.
Golden in colour, this has marginally more body than the Sercial, and is a tangy fine textured wine.

17 -March -Mar -2011

Terrantez

  • Terrantez

Grape almost extinct in the island and therefore not so well known.
Mainly grown in 2 areas of the island, Funchal at around 120metres high and Campanário at around 400metres high.
Produces essentially old Vintages Madeira.
Sugar content: 11º
Residual sugar: 2,5º Baumé
Grapes picked in the middle of the harvest.

Golden in colour, it has more body than Verdelho and produces very exotic and spicy wines.

18 -January -Jan -2011

Bual, Medium Rich

Located on the south side of the island, mainly at Campanário & Calheta at fairly low altitude (100-300 metres).

Sugar content: 11º-13º
Residual Sugar: 2.5 - 3.5º Baumé
Picked early on during the harvest.
Medium to dark, full-bodied and fruity with a well rounded flavour and attractive ‘smoky’ complexity.

18 -January -Jan -2011

Malmsey, Rich

Almost grown exclusively on the south side of the island around Jardim do Mar at an altitude between 150-200 metres.

Sugar content: 12º-14º
Residual Sugar: 3.5 - 6.2º Baumé
Malmsey is the first variety to be harvested.
Medium dark to dark, a luscious rich soft-textured wine, distinctly full honeyed and mellow.

18 -January -Jan -2011

Vinification

The Madeira Wine Company uses the most modern wine making technology whilst at the same time respecting the age-old traditions of Madeira wine. At the 'adega' the wines are selected and pressed to separate the must from the skins. Fermentation takes place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and is stopped with the addition of grape brandy when the appropriate amount of natural grape sugar has been converted into natural alcohol. Malmsey is fortified early on in order to retain the richness for which it is renowned. Bual is fortified after approximately half the sugars have been converted into alcohol, Verdelho ferments still further whilst Sercial is allowed to ferment out until completely dry. All the wines are fortified up to 19% alcohol by volume.

The MWC winery was completely modernised in 2001/2002 and is now the most advanced wine making facility on the island and is the largest investment ever made in Madeira wine production. In 2001 it became the only wine producer and merchant on the island to have been awarded the ISO 9002 European Standard Quality Certificate.

The next stage in Madeira's production is unique to the island and involves then heating of the wines for some months following the vintage, known as ESTUFAGEM. During the 18th century many of the ships which took on casks of Madeira passed through the heat of the tropics. It was noticed that the effects of the increased temperature on the casks of the fortified wine was entirely beneficial. Indeed the wines acquired remarkable keeping qualities, extraordinary longevity and an attractive mellowed character.

Before long, ships were taking consignments of Madeira on round trips especially to subject the wines to this tropical heat. This heating of the wine, known as'estufagem', became a recognised process in Madeira's preparation and when it became too expensive to use ships an alternative method was found.This involved ageing the wines in large lofts naturally heated by the plentiful Madeiran sunlight. Today all the MWC's premium wines continue to be aged using this, the traditional 'canteiro' system, where the wines are warmed over a period of years in seasoned American oak casks by the natural heat of the sun in the lodges of Funchal. A development of this system was later introduced for the ageing of Tinta Negra Mole with the construction of special heating rooms called 'estufas' lined with hot water pipes in order to keep the temperature at a constant level (45ºC for a minimum of 3 months).A significant quantity of Tinta Negra Mole is also aged using the traditional canteiro method.

31 -January -Jan -2011

Aging

Wine is aged in two stages, the first ageing process takes place in a warm environment where the wine suffers a form of oxidation and where the bouquets are created and turn the wine into Madeira Wine.
The second stage takes placeover a period of years, when the wines are stored in casks in a cooler environment where they continue to develop and enhance their bouquet, due to the gradual evaporation of water.
Therefore in the course of time, the wines become more intense in alcohol, sugar, and dry extract and the bouquet becomes more enhanced. If the process of oxidation does not take place, it cannot be considered a Madeira Wine. Once opened, a bottle of Madeira Wine has an extensive life span, due to this oxidation process and also to the influence of the acidity in the volcanic soils, which allows the wine to keep its freshness.

There are two different types of Madeira Wines, blends and vintages. Blends are made from wines which are generally 3, 5, 10, 15 years old or more and are blended to reach an average of the age indicated on the bottle. Vintages are wines made from one single harvest. These wines are considered top quality wines, when they have been aged in casks for over 20 years and have reached the required quality. This traditional and natural method of ageing means that the wines are stored in seasoned oak casks in lofts under the roof of the old lodges in Funchal, here they benefit from the gentle warmth of the sun. No artificial heating is used for any of these wines. The word canteiro is derived from the name of the supporting beams that underpin the floor on which the casks are placed. These canteiro wines are stored in casks by variety, name and year of harvest.

The wines produced from “Tinta Negra” which is a Red Vitis Vinifera grape variety, are used to make the 3 year old wines. The four style names are: Rich, Medium Rich, Medium Dry and Dry. Their names describe their relative sweetness. These wines are aged by estufagem, which is the process of heating the wines in estufas. The wines are gently warmed up to temperatures of 45ºC by means of a coil pipe through which warm water is circulated. The estufagem process lasts for 3 months. Some “Tinta Negra” also ages in the natural canteiro process. These wines are used in some high quality blends after due time in cask.

The premium wines (the very fine 5, 10 and 15 Year Old wines, single harvest wines, and Frasqueira or Vintage Vintage Madeiras) are made with the following grape varieties: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, Malmsey and Terrantez. These wines are exclusively aged by the “canteiro process”.

The oenologists tasted all the wines regularly throughout the year and decides which wines will be used to make up a blend (of the same varietal) and which wines will be kept to make single harvest, colheita or vintage (minimum 20 years of ageing in cask – single year varietal). There is no maximum ageing period, although wines that are stored for very long periods can become too concentrated.
After the oenologists consider the wines have achieved their true characteristics, they are removed to a cooler area, to continue the ageing process more gently. The higher the temperature, the higher the risk of evaporation, so it is a fine balance between obtaining the right characteristics without losing too much of the wine in the process.

19 -January -Jan -2011

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