Madeira wine tasting

Wine aromas are divided into primary, secondary, and tertiary clusters, where each group originates from a different stage of the vine growing and winemaking process.

Every single grape variety has its individual recognisable flavour characteristics. Primary aromas derive from the grape variety and terroir, they are characterized by fresh fruit, flowers, plants, and herbs. Secondary aromas derive from post-fermentation processes. They do not appear at all in Madeira wines. Tertiary aromas (bouquet) derive from ageing. In Madeira wine, tertiary aromas are present and outspoken, as Madeira undergoes oxidative ageing on old wood, via slow heating, and bottle ageing.


Systematic tasting

A tasting method helps to taste, evaluate, compare, and remember wines in a systematic way.  In contrast with other wine styles, a Madeira is never pale, and 50 grams of sugar per litre in a dry Sercial equals the sugar level of a still sweet wine, according to European legislation.

Flavour is what is perceived in the mouth. The tongue discerns the basic flavours: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Lye, the taste of soap, is also a basic flavour, but luckily you will not come across that in Madeira. Umami, Japanese for ‘tasty’ is a story in itself, as it is a newly discovered flavour.


The aromas that occur in Madeira have been grouped together intuitively in this schedule. Other divisions are possible; however, research indicates that an overly high number of possibilities in an aroma circle complicates matters further. From a chemistry-based point of view a logical layout is impossible, as aromatics consist of multiple chemical components, and smells that are nothing alike may still share some of the same molecules. It seems contradictory, because one chemical component can be part of an attractive fruit aroma, and at the same time the base of a stinky smell.


Tertiary aromas (bouquet) derive from ageing. Madeira is produced like a white wine, therefore we hardly come across any red wine maturation aromatics. Oxidative maturing of white wines makes for the flavours of walnuts, hazelnut and almonds, dried and candied fruit, and marmalade. Bottle ageing of white wine creates curry, ginger, orange peel, toast, and honeyed notes.


The alcohol content of Madeira is higher than that of a still wine and it has an enormous flavour intensity, therefore it should be drunk in small quantities at time. On average one can serve about 12 glasses from a 0.75-litre bottle, which is a little more than 6 centilitres, or half a glass of still wine. However, as Madeira matures further, the complexity increases, which requires space in the glass to do justice. The best compromise is a is not-too-big-a wine glass with a wide bowl, which tapers towards the rim, giving enough space to swirl the wine around while at the same time preserving the scent in the glass.



Serving temperature

Serving temperature
Every wine has an ideal pouring temperature. For Madeira there is not one set temperature as the style is decisive, and as always, the best wines require a slightly higher temperature, so that the complexity is best showcased. The following standards for serving, decanting and storage are guidelines of IVBAM.
10 – 12 ºC – 3, 5, 10 years
14 – 16 ºC – 15, 20, 30, 40, 50 years, Colheita, Solera
16 – 18 ºC – Frasqueira, everything from 50 years