The Story of Madeira Wine

Madeira by Johan Fredrik Eckersberg, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Madeira Wine: A Toast to America’s Founding Fathers and Historic Moments

The history of Madeira wine is as rich and complex as the wine itself, dating back centuries and entwined with the cultural and economic development of the Portuguese island of Madeira in the Atlantic. 

The production of wine in Madeira likely began shortly after the island’s discovery in the early 15th century. Portuguese explorers and settlers recognized the potential of the volcanic soil and favorable climate for cultivating vineyards.

The Madeira Wine

Madeira is a Likörwine, a fortified wine with brandy added that is referred to in Portugal as Vino Generoso (or short Generoso).

The origin of Madeira wine is originated in a historic accident when Madeira wine makes cut off the fermentation process with a high proof brandy distillate with the idea of creating a better durability for longer transportation. A similar process was used for port wines. And soon, Sailors reported that the wine changed its taste for the better after being transported through the tropics and to the New World. The story goes that from this moment on Madeira wine makers used oversea transport to colonies to improve the taste of Madeira wines: Selected wines were transported in relatively small barrels and went through the so called torna viagem, the voyage to the Portuguese overseas provinces, which particularly supported the maturation process, the so-called Madeirization. The ship voyage was later (to this day) replaced by three to five month storage at 45°C to 75°C.


Madeira wine & North American history

Madeira, a favored beverage among notable figures including Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and George Washington, enjoyed a prominent place in their preferences. George Washington, in particular, made it a nightly tradition to savor a pint of Madeira with his dinner. The significance of Madeira transcended personal enjoyment, as it was used to raise toasts during the pivotal moments of signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1787. This esteemed wine played a vital role in shaping American history, becoming not only a favorite among the Founding Fathers but also fostering substantial trade and establishing itself as a symbolic libation for celebratory occasions in the American colonies.


The Island’s Cultural Heritage

For centuries Madeira wine and port wine were of great economic importance for Portugal. For many years it was considered the most popular wine in the entire British Empire. Madeira is a protected designation of origin (DOP) for the liqueur wine from the island of Madeira, which still belongs to Portugal. Madeira is a partially oxidized wine, therefore other undesirably oxidized wines are often referred to as “Madeirized” wines.

Today, Madeira wine is celebrated worldwide for its unique characteristics, ranging from dry to sweet, and its ability to age gracefully. It remains a symbol of the island’s cultural heritage and is produced by numerous wineries, each contributing to the diverse styles available. In essence, the history of Madeira wine is a testament to the island’s ingenuity, adaptability, and the enduring appeal of a wine that has traveled across oceans and through centuries, leaving an indelible mark on both local and global cultures.

The process of transporting barrels over the Atlantic to improve quality was reinvented in 1805 for Linie Aquavit.

The Distilling Culture


Embark on a global journey, and you’ll find that cultures possess tales that harken back to their ancient beginnings of distillation, brewing, and winemaking.

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