Last week I visited Old Blandy Wine Lodge in Funchal on Madeira to see how Madeira wine is made. We had saved this for a rainy day and it was very rainy that day.
This building was built in the 17th century and was part of a monastery. It was bought in 1840 and converted to a winery. This is a working lodge where the wine is being aged by natural heat.
For about 5 euros a knowledgable guide will take you on a tour and this includes 2 generous glasses of Maderia to sample.
The vat below would hold up to 10000 litres of wine. This one is for display purposes and has had the archways cut into it so that you can walk through it. The smell inside was wonderful, aromatic wood and wine together. There are deposits of sugar on the inside. Chestnut wood was used for the casks, there are sweet chestnut trees in Madeira, and nowadays American oak.The vats were made of Brazil mahogany and nowadays Brazilian satinwood.
The method for making Madeira was discovered by chance. The island was a stopping off point for ships. Wine taken on board in oak casks had brandy added to it to help preserve it. When a ship returned to Madeira with an unopened cask it was discovered that the taste of the wine had improved on its journey due to the heat of the tropics. So wine was sent on round trips to improve it. Eventually this process was achieved by storing the barrels in the warm loft at the top of the wine lodge building. See below. The smell in the wine loft is fragrant and aromatic. Later the wine is transferred into the large vats and continues to age until it is bottled. These are on a lower floor where it will age at a lower temperature and are filled to about 90% to leave an airspace to slowly oxidise the wine.
In the museum there are accounting books from the last 3 centuries.
There are 4 main types of Maderia named after the grape varieties used. At the end of the tour we were given some samples to taste. On the left is a 3 year old Sercial and on the right a 5 year old Bual. The Sercial is dry and the Bual medium rich. I much prefered the Bual for its rich honey and raisiny flavours. We then had some 15 year old Malmsey the sweetest, deepest in colour and richest for taste like an extract of very good Christmas cake with toffee or butterscotch and my favourite. We were told that it makes a good accompaniment for Christmas cake or chocolate. I was in such a hurry to taste this one that I forgot to photograph it!