The multiplicities of Madeira Wine

Nowg Feb 2024
Madeira sales increased 10 percent last year over the previous year.

By Mary Malik

According to Jim Sperk of the Northern Ohio Wine Guild, Madeira wine sales increased 10 percent last year over the previous year, but the labeling can be confusing. Let’s turn to Jim for some guidance so you can make a more informed choice.

“So, I’ve done some research, including tastings, to try and clear things up a bit,” Jim says. “After all, someone had to do it.”

According to Jim, while 85 percent of Madeira is made from the red grape Negra Mole, they carry no varietal label. That being said, there are four major white grape varieties ranging from dry to very sweet with the wine style synonymous with the name of the varietal grape.

• Sercial: Driest style with 0.5% to 1.5% residual sugar (RS)

• Verdelho: Slightly sweeter with 1.5% to 2.5% RS, high acidity and smoky taste.

• Bual: Sweeter still with 2.5% to 3.5% RS, aroma of raisins and mouth-filling texture.

• Malvasia: The sweetest with 3.5% to 6.5% RS, flavors of caramel and coffee and dark color.

“Another style known as ‘Rainwater’ is made from the Negra Mole grape,” Jim says. “Usually consumed as an aperitif, this style outsells other Madeiras in the U.S., perhaps due to its inexpensive price tag.”

Additional labeling appearing on Madeira bottles refers to the aging process.

• Finest: Wine has aged at least three years, usually used for cooking.

• Reserve: Must be aged a minimum of five years.

• Special Reserve : Aged a minimum of 10 years.

• Extra Reserve: Aged at least 15 years.

• Frasqueira: Requires wines to be aged at least 19 years in a cask, followed by one year in a bottle.

• Colheita: Single vintage wines with at least five years of aging.

• “Reserve” Special and Extra: These labels can contain different vintages averaging five, 10 or 15 years of aging.

With Madeira wines gaining in popularity, now that you have a little knowledge, check one out and see what the fuss is all about.

For information about the Northern Ohio Wine Guild, contact Jim Sperk at