Madeira Wine and Dining

Wine and Dining in Madeira is much enhanced by pairing Madeira wine with food


Colours of Madeira wines
Colours of Madeira wines


Wine with wonderful fresh food is one of the fun things to do. Madeira wines are made for food and fine dining. So which Madeira wine goes best with the Madeiran menu….and more!

Food pairing is becoming a hot topic, with the 2015 Madeira wine festival focusing on pairing madeiran cuisine with Madeira wines and Madeira table wines.

The pictures below show some of the options available to try at the Madeira wine festival.



The Madeiran Menu

Madeira aperitif (Blandy’s)

These are the items likely to be found on a Madeiran menu and form part of the unique appeal of the island. Dining on the island of Madeira is a delight, especially when dishes are paired to wine produced in Madeira.

A Sercial as an aperitif is a must, a bottle of the madeiran table wine is well worth trying and a Verdelho is very versatile indeed. Bual or Malmsey will complete your meal, depending on your pairing of dessert which will bring a perfect meal to a delightful and memorable end.

Pairing Madeira wine with food is fun and there are a lot more options than one would expect.

Below are some of the highlights of a menu in Madeira and some ideas on which dish will pair with which Madeira wine.


Soup is hugely popular with Madeirenes and is usually on most restaurant menus. Madeira wine accompanies certain soups very well and two such examples have been created by a pair of leading chefs and photographed and the recipe curated by IVBAM.


Madeira is famous for fish and serves some of the finest and freshest fish in the world and in “Espada” it has one of the most unique fish dishes anywhere in the world.

If you have time visit the Mercardo in Funchal which is bustling with fantastic fruit and vegetable stalls and a wonderful lively fish market…..head up to the balcony and admire the skills of the fish mongers and the freshness of the sea.

Both Madeira wine and Madeira table wine will pair with fish very effectively.

You can find some excellent pairings of Seafood and Madeira wines based on the suggestions of some of the Islands leading chefs that have been curated and photographed beautifully by IVBAM.

Espada or Scabbard fish – Madeiran Sword Fish

Madeira fish market
Espada, Madeira’s Scabbard Fish

The “scabbard fish” – Espada not to be confused with swordfish….(espadarte) is a delicacy notionally limited to Madeira and the Azores.

This fish is a black eel like creature that lives at great depths – 800 metres deep off Madeira. The fishermen of Camora de Lobos are expert in catching this fish, deploying lines over 1.5 kilometers in length.

The fish are caught in the dark early hours of the morning, and the days catch can be seen in the Mercado (market) in central Funchal.

While this fish may not look appetizing….which fish do? But this one looks positively fierce. However once expertly prepared and “steaked” espada with its delicate delicious firm white flesh is a delight. This is often called “rolos”

Espada is usually served lightly battered and pan fried in butter, along with banana and salad, and very often fries. If the fish is fresh, and it usually is, it is a truly enjoyable dish, made more so if paired with a glass of Verdelho. A Terrantez would be stylish wine to pair with espada. Terrantez is light with a hint of lemon and real depth and smoothness, and lightly chilled would work very well.

Several of the table wines based on the Verdelho grape will also pair well with Espada.

Espada com vinho e alhos sees the fish marinated in wine and vinegar and then fried in olive oil….this is a very typical Madeiran way of preparing espada. Sercial or a Verdelho based table wine will work well if paired with the Espada com vinho.

More up-market restaurants offer espada in a variety of sauces often fruit based and with little twists of spices or with a white wine or champagne sauce and garnished with prawns.

Espadarte – Swordfish

This fish Espadarte is quite common on the menu of the many restaurants that specialize in seafood on the island. Other fish often seen on menus include Pargo- Bream and Salmonete – Red Mullet all usually freshly caught and bought for the day and displayed in refrigerated cabinets by seafood restaurants.

Depending on how the fish is being cooked, a Verdelho Madeira wine would pair well with many of the fish dishes poplar on the island as of course would a Verdelho grape based Madeiran table wine.

Em cladeira – Fish Hot Pot or stew

Em cladeira is a fish stew or hotpot, with a single fish cooked in a light onion and tomato stock.

This is not a commonly seen on offer on many of the cafe bar style restaurants, but it is worth hunting out in the more traditional style restaurants. What to pair? perhaps a rose would work with this dish.


Caldeirada is a typical Portuguese stew, very much appreciated by Madeirans.

This delicious specialty consists of a large variety of fish, with tomato, potatoes and onion. Sometimes, instead of fish, it can also be with shellfish.

A verdelho would pair with the shellfish, as would a rose wine or a verdelho based table wine. You can see the ideas for seafood and Madeira wine and seafood pairings including Caldeirada in these chef special creations to show case the versatility of Madeira wine and fish.


You may see Truta – Trout on an occasional menu, and trout is found in several Madeiran streams and there is a trout farm at Chão da Ribeira.

Arroz de mariscos – Seafood paella

This dish is found at seafood specialist restaurants and is an excellent way to try the variety of fish available in Madeira. A glass of Sercial will pair well with this dish, as would several of the table wines.

Arroz de Marisco

This is similar to the seafood paella Arroz de mariscos as it is seafood and rice. This dish is more likely to have a stronger tomato and onion base, but will contain fish and shellfish.

Matching a wine to these dishes is a little difficult as “ingredients are subject to variation” ……if you suspect a fuller richer dish go towards the reds or a zingy rose such as Atlantis, if not a white wine will work well, perhaps a Palmeira e Volta which is a white based on Verdelho but with a touch of Bual (and Arnsburger), but is just rich enough to cope with the richness of rice seafood and herbs.


This fish dish is not native to Madeira, it is the national dish of Portugal and comes in many many varieties. It is based on dried salted cod and is cooked in many different ways so best advice is to ask how the dish will be prepared and served.

One version of Bacalhau is sliced salt cod baked in a creamy sauce with chopped onion and potatoes.

Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá

This is a much more soft and easy way of enjoying salt cod fish and the authors favourite. The fish is mixed with sliced potatoes, onions and boiled eggs (and sometimes rice), it is gently seasoned with herbs and has a delightful note of olive oil. This makes an excellent supper.

Bacalhau is a strong tasting dish and a red, rose or white wine can work with this dish. A Quinta do Moledo Red would be good as would a Seiçal rose or a Terras do Avô Madeiran white which is 95% Verdelho grape.

Atum – Tuna

Tuna is still caught locally and is also imported and is prepared “escabeche” style – which means the fish has been marinated and then fried. Tuna is also salted for a day prior to cooking. The marinade is often olive oil, garlic, vinegar, salt, pepper, parsley and a pinch of oregano.

Tuna is also grilled and served with an onion sauce and accompanied by milho frito….. this is deep fried cubes of maize or more likely sweet-corn flour sometimes flavoured with cabbage and herbs.

Corn Baked or Fried Corn Bread or Homemade Sweet Potato Cake and salad is often served with Tuna.

Lightly grilled tuna works well with sercial.

Lapas – Limpets

Limpets are also native to Madeira, but not widely available, being the preserve of more traditional and up-market restaurants.

The limpets are quite chewy in comparison to mussels and other shell fish. The limpets are usually grilled or pan fried and served in their open shells with very few additions other than lemon juice and garlic.

They are an excellent starer when accompanied with a glass of dry sercial.

Lapas e arroz

Limpets with rice, and here the limpets are cooked with onion, garlic and a stock with rice soaking up the flavours.

This is a more substantial dish and an excellent main course. A white Madeiran table wine would work with this dish perhaps a Palmeira e Volta.

Lulas Squid

Squid is caught off Madeira, and is often offered on a menu. Apolo the café and snack bar close to the Cathedral in Funchal offers excellent grilled squid. Sercial makes an excellent accompaniment for squid.

While not every restaurant offers squid, it is usually excellent, fresh and tender and is served in a variety of ways form lightly fried to a garlic led delight.

Cavalas com Molho de Vilão – Mackerel

Grilled Mackerel with a sauce made of onion, vinegar and spices is quite a traditional meal and is found on menus on occasions. A difficult dish to pair with wine, but a sercial. may hold its own!

Açorda de Camarão com Amêijoas “A Bready – eggy confection with Clams & Shrimp”

Hard bread is used to create this very flavoursome dish of clams and shrimps flavoured with tomato and coriander and the egg yolks are added at the end to bring the dish together.


Madeira is also justifiably famous for the meat dishes served in its restaurants…..chef’s seem to have particular expertise in cooking steaks.

Espetada – Maderia beef served on a skewer

Pouring MadeiraEspetada is another Madeira specialty to look out for, and is served in many establishments. This is skewered beef (bife) given a unique flavour by the use of laurel leaves in the coals. It is grilled over an open fire and often served with the skewers hanging in “frame” when presented at the table.

Espetada makes a great hors d’oeuvre or a main course when it is usually served with salad and fries. No traditional Madeiran wine perfectly suits this dish, but the growing number of good quality table wines from Madeira, especially the zingy rose’s such as Atlantis would work well with this meaty scented beef dish, or a glass of Coral lager…..the local brewed beer ubiquitous in most establishments.

Carne vinho e alhos:  Pork spiced with wine and garlic

One of the most important Madeiran dishes is this dish of pork spiced with wine and garlic. It is eaten especially during the Christmas festivities, and is a true traditional Madeiran dish.

This dish consists of small pieces of pork meat left to marinate at least for a day often longer) in a mix of wine vinegar, garlic, pepper,oregano and bay leaf, before it is cooked in the same sauce.

I am told fried bread and sliced orange are also common ingredients of this recipe with families often having differing traditions around its preparation.

This dish is not all that common on menus in tourist orientated restaurants. It is found sometimes as a sandwich, which it is excellent with a beer or a richer red wine such as Xavelha.

Picado Cubed beef pan fried in garlic

Picado is one of the most popular meat dishes in Madeira Amongst locals and tourists.
This dish is made with small cubes of veal, seasoned with salt, pepper and pan fried with garlic. It is traditionally served surrounded by chips.

A Madeira wine such as sercial would be able to cope with the garlic in this dish as would one of the reds such as Xavelha.


Madeiran restaurants are generally expert in cooking steaks, with rich sauces often based on wines and brandies. The much missed Fleur de Lys grill rooms of the Classic Savoy produced superlative Steak Diane, with the added theatre of cooking the steak at the table.

Madeiran beef is known for its tenderness and taste, and several restaurants offer the “steak on the stone” way of cooking your own steak.

Much of this tradition of steak cooking is maintained by the excellent Dona Amelia, its sister restaurant Casa Velha and the nearby Casa de Franca de Penha all of which produce wonderful steak dishes.

Filet mignon is accompanied with Boal in this wine and food pairing.

Steak sandwiches are offered in many snack bars and can make an excellent lunch, they are usually served in Bolo do Caco.

Breads and snacks

Bolo do Caco: Traditional bread

Bread is generally very good in Madeira and made to a traditional recipe – bolo do caco, and is often offered at the start of a meal. Certain breads are made using Sweet potato, which is widely grown in Madeira.

Bolo do caco is often seen on menu’s and is bread cooked on a heated stone, and often provides the basis for many sandwich based snacks offered, including steak sandwiches and a very traditional Portuguese sandwich made with Pork marinated in vinegar and garlic called vinhas d’alhos and is an excellent lunch time snack/light lunch.

Bolo do caco often called pão regional; This bread is almost a sourdough in style as when the bread is rising it is cut and flattened quickly and baked.

When not used as a sandwich containing such delights as Carne vinho e alhos (Pork spiced with wine and garlic) or as a Prego (beef steak sandwich) it is usually served with garlic as a wonderful garlic bread.

Pão caseiro com batata-doce: Sweet potato bread  

This is Sweet potato bread and a very nice and interesting take on bread. Madeira grows excellent sweet potato.

Bolo da Pedra: Potato bread

This is potato cake or potato bread, which is literally translated as stone cake as the bread/cake should be cooked on a hot stone in a wood fired oven.

Steak sandwiches and vinhas d’alhos are best accompanied by Beer…..the locally brewed Coral is very good, it is usually available on draught (order um canica for a pint equivalent) or by the bottle.


Tasting delight 2015
Tasting delight 2015

With Madeira a floating sub tropical island the choice of fruits available for desserts is wonderful, but sadly too many restaurants lack imagination with desserts and too easily settle for ice cream or fresh fruit salad, this is a shame.

This is a picture of a dessert similar in appearance  to a well know chocolate (ferrero rocher) created by Michelin starred chef Benoit Sinthon but containing a cream cheese mousse designed to accompany an excellent aged Madeira Malmsey.

This creation was part of the Blandy’s Madeira wine and food pairing tasting event in 2015. Just fantastic!

More imaginative restaurants offer fruit kebabs, fruit flambe dishes and fruit gratins using locally grown bananas and passion fruit to fabulous effect..

Naturally a Bual will work well with these types of dishes.

Queijo – Cheese, the best till last 

Cheese, waiting for the Bual
Cheese, waiting for the Bual


Cheese is also seen as a dessert often served with local preserves and honey and again a Bual works well with the Portuguese cheeses offered. Typical Portuguese cheeses that would accompany Bual are Evora, Nisa, Serpa, Pico and Terrincho.

Malmsey will also accompany many desserts, especially those sweet fruit desserts and chocolate desserts. Verdelho will also work well with some cheeses that are strong and pungent.


Cakes and Pastries

Madeira with dessertPortugal is famous for Pastries and there are several patisseries in Funchal and many of the cafes and snack bars serve excellent pastries.

Madeira is famous for its Honey Cake. This cake is widely found on the island and has a very long shelf life. The principle sweet ingredient is actually treacle.