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Madeira Wine

Madeira is famous for a few things like cake and wine. Oh yes, and Cristiano Ronaldo! He grew up here as did the fortified wine business.

Step into Blandy's Wine Lodge for a barrel load of interesting fun!

Ronaldo’s talent was God-given while the unique flavour of Madeira Wine was a total fluke. Legend has it that sailors, keen to take a few barrels of table wine with them on their trans-Atlantic voyages found it prone to spoiling. Brandy was added to try and stop it from going off and somehow a cask of this blend travelled all the way to the Caribbean and back to Madeira - unopened! On sampling, it was discovered that the heat in the ship’s hold coupled with the ship’s constant rolling motion had vastly improved the wine’s flavour. Madeira wine was born!

“Madeira Wine was born!”

The process was further refined by adding more distilled alcohol from cane sugar to boost the alcohol content. But rather than send it on a round-trip to the Tropics, they opted to store the wine in Funchal's attics and let the Madeira sun do the rest.


You can learn all about making Madeira wine and sample a glass or two during a Vintage Tour of Blandy’s Wine Lodge in the centre of Funchal. To keep it cool, the Blandy family's private vintage collection is held within thick stone walls below-ground. I enjoyed an exclusive view of the collection followed by a tasting in the Vintage Room with Blandy’s head winemaker, Francisco Albuquerque. Francisco (Chico) is the leading expert on Madeiran winemaking and led me through the various vintages.

Madeira in the USA

The Island of Madeira made a huge contribution to the discovery and development of The New World. I don’t think the island's role is fully appreciated! There are two major factors; the voyager Christopher Columbus and perhaps to some more importantly, Madeira Wine!

“Madeira Wine fueled the American Revolution?”

It could be argued that Madeira Wine fueled the American Revolution? As no wine-quality grapes could be grown among the original thirteen colonies of America in the 1600s, Madeira Wine, with its sturdy resilience and ability to travel became evermore popular. By the late 1600s, Madeira had monopolized the American wine market and a certain shipping agent, John Hancock was the leading importer. Eager to increased his profits, Hancock took to smuggling the Madeira into the colonies under the noses of the English excisemen but this finally lead to the seizing of his ship, ‘Liberty’ in the port of Boston. A lawsuit filed against him by the English governor for unpaid taxes led Hancock to enlist top lawyer of the day and future president, John Adams as his defense attorney. Adams won the case, dealing the first blow to British rule in the colonies and kindling the flames of revolution. Hancock himself entered into politics, becoming friends with the colonial leaders and no doubt encouraging them with his (and their) favourite product. You can see how similarly big business today seeks to influence the corridors of power.

Madeira Wine had taken centre stage in American politics and, when independance finally came, Thomas Jefferson used ‘Malmsey’ Madeira to toast the Declaration! The new nation’s first president, George Washington was also a very keen imbiber as were Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. Madeira was America's first tipple!


Savannah was a major port of entry for Madeira in colonial times and a favourite in the early wine cellars of Savannah. There is still a Madeira Club in Savannah today - although it was only formed in the 1950s. Just last year (2017) at the Liberty Hall Museum in New Jersey, Madeira wines dating back to just after the American War of Independence were discovered in a cellar during restoration work. Three cases of Madeira were discovered imported in 1796, according to their labels.

David J. Whyte


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