Madeira is named after the Portugese Island where it is made. A fortified wine like Port or Sherry, madeira has a unique production process which involves heating it to change the flavour. Good quality vintages are heated in lofts, while cheaper ones are subjected to steam pipes.
As with all fortified wines, it is supplemented with Brandy which increases its strength and adds to the distinct flavour. Available in flavours ranging from dry to sweet, the best known Madeira is Malmsey, the sweetest.
One of the rare wines that improves with rough handling, Madeira became popular with the British for naval voyages. Even today it can be stored in conditions where other wines degrade and still be drinkable. It has the longest life once opened of any wine, up to several months.From personal experience, not being a great drinker, the author has a bottle that is opened once a year at Christmas. It has been drinkable for the last few years - the rest of the year it's in a drawer.
Due to the high sugar and alcohol content (14-23%), Madeira also has a high calorie count so probably isn't a drink for dieters! Traditionally, Madeira was also drunk by either gender like sherry, while Port was reserved for men.
A 300-year old tipple
"fresh, clean, lively and a remarkable find" - one taster's comment on sampling a 1670 vintage discovered in London, in a testament to the staying power of madeira.