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Madeira

What other wine needs to be baked in order to reach its full potential? The mid-Atlantic island of Madeira, about 1000km off the coast of Portugal, was for centuries a victualing point for ships en route to Africa and the Americas. The wines that rocked about in the holds in tropical or equatorial temperatures were deemed delicious, thanks to the burnt, caramel-y characteristics that overlaid their tangy flavours.

The effort to replicate this effect gave rise to a practice known as estufagem; 'baking' the wine in heated casks, or tanks with hot water pipes running through them, for at least three months prior to bottling. As well as caramelising all the sugars in the wine, this imparts a thorough oxidation, so the wine can age for decades. The wine itself is traditionally graded in sweetness according to the grape varieties used, from Sercial (dry) to Malmsey (sweet and dark), by way of Verdelho and Boal. And ours are all excellent, of course - you won't find anything half-baked here!

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  1. Blandy's Duke of Clarence Madeira

    Blandy's Duke of Clarence Madeira 70cl

    £15.00

    £15.00

    We can thank the existence of this Portuguese sweetie to a very happy accident of history. Way back when, when merchants shipped their wares in wooden ships, the wine in the hold would often overheat, resulting in a delicious, caramelised wine.

    Winemakers have sought to recreate this effect by baking the wine ever since - and now Blandy's have perfected the technique. This Madeira, made with the more unusual Tinta Negra Mole, is toffeed, ripe and nutty Madeira, with ample sweetness and a clean, tart finish. A most serendipitous wine indeed.
  2. Madeira Barbeito Boal Reserva

    Madeira Barbeito Boal Reserva

    £15.00

    £15.00

    Just as you (probably) wouldn't choose to watch a saccharin sweet rom-com packed to the rafters with needy American teenagers who really should just count their blessings, but nor would you (probably) want to watch a four-part documentary on paint drying, you don't want your Madeira to be cloying, and you don't want it to be too dry.

    Vinhos Barbeito are experts at striking this balance and this marmalade and cane sugar-flavoured - yet moreishly refreshing - Madeira Boal is testament to that.
  3. Madeira Barbeito Malvasia Reserva

    Madeira Barbeito Malvasia Reserva

    £15.00

    £15.00

    The ethos of Ricardo Diogo, the winemaker at Vinhos Barbeito, is that 'small is beautiful'. We think he is absolutely right. Take Ronnie Corbett. OK maybe 'beautiful' isn't quite the word, but he certainly knows how to make the most of what he has: Ronnie Barker's line "I look up to him [John Cleese] because he is upper class, but I look down on him [Corbett] because he is lower class", followed with Corbett saying: "I know my place", wouldn't really be the same if Corbett was of an average height. So 'be small and proud', we cry!

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