How to taste Madeira

How to taste Madeira

Madeira is probably the best place to really taste Madeira wines and a visit to the wine lodges in Funchal or Camara de Lobos is a great way to ensure that you can taste a range of Madeira wines and learn a little more as well. In addition many specialist retailers have a selection of Madeiras to taste.

tasting Madeira wine
tasting Madeira wine

How to taste Madeira?

What is the best temperature to taste Madeira at?

Well in my view it is a matter of personal preference, the dryer the wine the more common it is to lightly chill the wine, to about 12 degrees centigrade. The sweeter the wine the less the need is the common view.

However, again in my view, the younger the wine the more acceptable it is to chill the wine, I always chill young Madeira wines and then warm them gently in my hands and therefore the right shape of glass is important.

I do not advise chilling aged Madeira wines at all and great care should be taken with the wine on opening and serving. It may be that the wine needs to breathe for some considerable time to re-acquaint itself with the outside world.

The right shape glass looks like this selection offered in Blandy’s wine lodge.

Wine tasting at Blandy's
Wine tasting at Blandy’s


Note the colour shades and the optimum glass style. The dryer wines on the right are lightly chilled.

These wines are all 10 years old and exhibit the ideal age at which to try the 4 noble grapes (Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey).

When tasting it is important to first nose the wine after some gentle swirling to get that rich smooth note that is so typical of a Madeira wine.

Then, (yes do this, its fun) take a tiny dip of the Malmsey with a (clean) finger and smear the wine on to the top of your hand, let it dry for a moment and sniff…..yes curry or fenugreek aromas are quite evident. Madeira wine was once worn as a scent and you can understand why from this little bit of fun.

This wine is complex, integrated, elegant and one of the most interesting to taste and as you explore the differing wines, while there is an overall flavour style, the differences from dry to medium dry, medium sweet and sweet are marked in several different ways.

Sercial is dry, but not astringent as a table wine, but smooth, stylish and with nutty notes making the perfect aperitif.

Verdelho is medium dry, and has more fruity fresh tones with a tinge of caramel which is so Madeira.

Bual is medium sweet and brings darker dried fruites and more caramel sweetness, without stickiness but with smoothness

Malmsey, the most famous and luscious of any sweet wine in the world brings more dark fruit and molasses and that almost gentle spicy note you can smell on your hand top.

This is the flavour profile from HM Borges award winning 15 years old Boal and gives an excellent way to appreciate  the complexity of Madeira wine.

Madeira wine taste profile
Madeira wine taste profile

This diagram shows the flavours discovered in HM Borges 15 years old Boal at the highly prestigeous 26th Grand International Wine Award Mundus Vini Spring Tasting 2020.This profile won a gold medal for  HM Borges with a 15 years old Boal.

Good flavours of dried fruits and spices abound along with nuts. How these flavours are integrated are also key pointers to what makes an excellent Madeira. The acidity is managed alongside the sweetness. An example of a wonderful Boal from HM Borges.

Borges Boal at 10 and 15 years old
Borges Boal at 10 and 15 years old

For all Madeira’s pour gently and enjoy.

Pouring Madeira