The heating of the wine during the ageing process is unique to Madeira and contributes much to the magic of the wine. It came about during the era of discovery when barrels of wine were loaded on board the visiting ships to provide much needed refreshments to the sailors and to also act as ballast for ships. On one particular occasion, a barrel of wine was returned back untouched to a shipper after a long tour to India. After tasting the wine, the shipper noticed that it had improved remarkably in barrel.
This improvement was attributed to the fact that as the ship had passed the equator four times, the wine was naturally heated by the high tropical temperatures. For many years, the practice of shipping wines on a round trip became normal, and gave birth to the “vinho da roda” (round trip wines). With time, the practice of shipping barrels on a round trip became costly, and following the introduction of steamships, the journey became much faster and producers started using the “canteiro system”.
Madeira wine can be aged in the “Canteiro” or the “Estufagem” methods. The “canteiro” method (in American oak casks in the warm attics of the lodge) is used for wines of a superior quality. The “estufagem” method is a process where the winemaker controls the heating temperature during the ageing process.