Cultivating a passion for fortified wine
Wines go in and out of fashion. Madeira’s heyday was in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but recent decades have seen a revival of interest in this unique wine. Tourism in the 1970s brought a new audience, and then, in 1986, Portugal joined what was to become the EU, aiding trade as well as leading to investment in the vineyards and a raising of quality standards. This is a distinctive, perhaps niche, wine but those who like it really love it. So what is it that makes Madeira so special? Perhaps it is the romance of tasting the past – wines released today may have been created many decades (in some cases more than a century) ago. This is a wine that requires age, heat and air in order to achieve its true potential. Those making Madeira today are sending wine to the future, perhaps to be drunk or sold by their great-grandchildren.
This is just one of the aspects of the wine that sparked wine writer Richard Mayson’s interest in Madeira and keeps him returning to it. In his fully updated second edition of the André Simon award shortlisted Madeira: The islands and their wines, he refers to the wine as “a passion”, and you sense his enthusiasm when he describes the wine:
Madeira is one of the most enthralling of the world’s wines as well as the most resilient. Wines from the 19th and even the 18th centuries still retain an ethereal, youthful gloss, even after spending what is, in wine terms, an aeon in cask and bottle … Once the cork is removed, the wine comes to no harm, even if the bottle is left on ullage for months, even for years on end. If ever there was a wine to take away with you to a desert island, this is it.
It certainly makes one want to sample the wines. Fortunately Mayson has tasted all of them for us. Well, maybe not all, but over 400 wines are tasted, described and evaluated in the book, with some intriguing notes that make it clear that this really is a “wine like no other”. Those who already share Mayson’s passion will be deciding what wine to purchase next. Those who are new to Madeira will find his notes on the language of tasting Madeira essential reading.
In addition to sharing his enthusiasm for the wines, Mayson demonstrates a clear love of the islands that will have readers looking up flights to Funchal. Fortunately he provides a guide to visiting the islands, including hotel recommendations.
The book is a thorough guide to a singular wine. As well as a lively chapter on the history of the islands there is detailed information on their climate and geology (Mayson’s geography degree first set him writing about wine) and profiles of all the shippers (producers). Madeira: The islands and their wines is indispensable for anybody studying or collecting these wines.
About the author
Richard Mayson entered the wine trade as a result of living and working in Portugal and spent five years working for the Wine Society before becoming a freelance writer. He is the author of six wine books. In 2014 Richard was the Louis Roederer International Wine Feature Writer of the Year and in 2015 Madeira: The islands and their wines was shortlisted for the André Simon Award. Richard has contributed to a number of publications, including the Oxford Companion to Wine, the Larousse Encyclopedia of Wine and the World Atlas of Wine. He writes regularly for Decanter and the World of Fine Wine and chairs the Port and Madeira panel for the Decanter World Wine Awards.
Madeira (2nd edition) published by Infinite Ideas on 28 July 2022.
ISBN: 9781913022198, pb, rrp £35, 234 x 156mm, 340pp.
Also available as an eBook.
Review copies available from firstname.lastname@example.org; 07802 443957