Heat plays an integral part in the array of styles, complexity and great longevity of the fortified wines produced on this small, sub-tropical island off the coast of northwest Africa. Richard Mayson picks 10 bottles to try...

10 Madeira wines for Christmas

If ever there was a wine to take to a desert island, it is Madeira. This is not because Madeira is an island (and it ceased to be deserted when it was discovered by the Portuguese in 1420) but because no other wine is so utterly resilient. Madeira survives heat, air and almost anything you can throw at it. Once the cork is removed, the wine comes to no harm, even if the bottle is left open and on ullage for months, even years on end. As a result you can taste an enthrallingly rich, deep and complex wine with repeated visits to the same bottle: just the wine for an island paradise.

Fortified with grape spirit at 96% abv (Port is fortified with spirit at 77%), Madeira needs age to taste the way it should; maderised being the operative expression.

Keeping Madeira

Madeira will last almost indefinitely in bottle. All wines are bottled ready to drink. As a rule of thumb, blended wines bottled with stopper corks should be drunk within five years of bottling. Colheita and vintage wines may be kept indefinitely. Bottles should be stored standing up. It is recommended that bottles with driven corks be re-corked roughly every 20 years. Wines should be served at cool room temperature unless otherwise indicated.

Richard Mayson’s book, Madeira, The Islands and their Wines, is published by Infinite Ideas. He is also the Decanter World Wine Awards Regional Chair for Port and Madeira.

Blandy’s Bual 1969

Blandy’s, Bual 1969

Blandy’s, Bual 1969 Rating: 19/20pts An outstanding year for Bual, this wine was bottled in 2013 having spent more than…

Points 96
HM Borges Verdelho 20 Year Old

HM Borges, Verdelho, 20 Year Old

HM Borges, Verdelho, 20 Year Old Rating: 18/20pts Wonderfully expressive, with slightly smoked, singed, gunflint aromas and a touch of…

Points 93
Blandy’s Colheita Sercial 1998

Blandy’s, Colheita Sercial 1998

Blandy’s, Colheita Sercial 1998 Rating: 17.5/20pts One of the first of the new generation of colheitas, this is restrained on…

Points 91
D’Oliveira Colheita Terrantez 1988

D’Oliveira, Colheita Terrantez 1988

D’Oliveira, Colheita Terrantez 1988 Rating: 17.5/20pts This grape is as rare as hen’s teeth, having been driven almost to extinction,…

Points 91
Blandy’s Alvada 5 Year Old

Blandy’s, Alvada, 5 Year Old

Blandy’s, Alvada, 5 Year Old Rating: 17/20 Launched in the early 2000s, this was a radical departure for Madeira, being…

Points 90
Justino’s Colheita 1996

Justino’s, Colheita 1996

Justino’s, Colheita 1996 Rating: 16/20pts Made from Tinta Negra but bottled prior to the rule change. Shows just how expressive…

Points 86