This is a white grape variety that probably originates from the region of Bucelas, near Lisboa, where it is traditionally grown under the name Esgana Cao (Dog Strangler), having been introduced in Madeira, where it was given the name Sercial.
The vineyards are located both on the north and south side of the island. At south, we find it at high elevations in Jardim da Serra, above Estreito de Câmara de Lobos, between 600m to 800m high, and at north, in the areas of Porto Moniz, São Vicente and Seixal, at lower altitudes, between 150 – 200m.
Sercial bunches are medium sized, thin skinned and the berries are prone to rot. It has a very late ripening and is resistant to oidium and mildium, being normally the last grape variety to be harvested. This slow maturation, the result of the terroir where it is grown, produces wines that rarely achieve more than 11% alcohol before fortification.
In Madeira Wine, due to its natural mouthwatering, tangy, crisp and racy acidity, balanced by its slight sweetness, Sercial is always used to produce dry wines, which are light bodied and exceptionally fresh, and present intense and vibrant aromas. Sercial begins its life pale in color, but over the course of time it deepens and darkens to amber.
It is not only an extraordinary aperitif or after-dinner wine (Colheita and Vintage) as it is the only Madeira Wine that can as well, if young, be enjoyed along a meal.
As most of the varietals on the island, Terrantez was brought from the north of mainland Portugal, where it goes by the name of Folgasão. For many centuries this varietal has always been used in the production of premium wines, achieving high prices in the market.
Rare, Terrantez grapes are white, thin-skinned and extremely fragile. The compact bunches and berries make it prone to botrytis and berry splitting. The yields are very low and ripening late.
Due to its fragile nature, it has been replaced by more prolific varieties, and was therefore almost brought to extinction. Lately, the family has persuaded growers to bring back production levels. Any Terrantez Madeira is rare enough to be worth trying.
Malmsey should not be viewed as a single variety (there are so many different grapes named Malvasia) but as style of wine. In “Wine Grapes” (Robinson et al.) the authors make this point, stating that Malvasia is a generic name given to a wide range of distinct white-, pink-, grey-, or black-skinned varieties which share an ability to produce sweet wines high in alcohol. The planted area is now stable at around 39 ha (96 acres).
The majority of the Malvasia growing on Madeira is a grape known as Malvasia Branca de São Jorge, a white grape variety introduced as recently as the 1970s in the parish of Sao Jorge in the district of Santana, on the north side of the island at lower altitudes (150m – 200m). The bunches are large and conic, and usually show early budding and late ripening. It is the first to be harvested, having an early maturation. The grapes are sweet and produce rich full-bodied wines that are dark in colour. On the mouth, the bouquet reveals notes of spices and honey. It bears no relation to the prized Malvasia Candida, introduced to Madeira in the 15th century, of which there are now only 3 hectares growing on Madeira, exclusively on the south coast.
A young Malmsey Madeira is light golden in colour, whereas old Malmseys dark amber tonalities. Rich, smooth and luscious on the palate, showing complex notes of moka, dried fruit and honey, hints of tropical fruit, butterscotch, toffee-nuts and marmalade.