Madeira is a unique and specific fortified wine made on the Madeira Islands of Portugal - situated in the Atlantic Ocean off the north-coast of Africa. The wine is produced in a variety of styles ranging from dry which can be served and enjoyed on their own or as an aperitif -  through to sweet wines usually enjoyed with desserts. The islands of Madeira have a long winemaking history, dating back to the 'Age of Exploration' when Madeira was an important and regular port of call for ships heading to the New World or East Indies.
To prevent the local wines of the time from spoiling on the ocean journey's, neutral grape spirit was added. During the long sea voyages, the wines would be exposed to excessive heat and constant movement, which transformed the flavour and character of the wine.

 

The wine producers of Madeira found this out - when an unsold shipment of wine returned to the islands after a round trip. Today, Madeira is noted for its unique winemaking process which involves heating the wine up to temperatures as high as 60°C for an extended period of time and deliberately exposing the wine to varied levels of oxidation.
By the 16th century a well-established wine industry had developed on the island. Near the end of the 20th century, producers started a renewed focus on quality, ripping out the hybrid vines and replanting with the noble grape varietals of Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malvasia. The workhorse varietals of Tinta Negra Mole and Complexa are still present, but hybrid grapes were officially banned back in 1979.
The terrain of the mountainous volcanic island is difficult to cultivate - with vineyards planted on man-made terraces, cut into the red and basaltic bedrock. These terraces, known as 'poios' are very similar to the terraces of the Douro Valley.
Since 1993, Madeira labels indicate the level of sweetness as 'seco' (dry), ‘meio seco’ (medium dry), ‘meio doce’ (medium sweet) and ‘doce’ (sweet).
Finest - aged for at least 3 years, Reserve - aged 5 yrs, Special Reserve - aged 10 yrs, Extra Reserve aged for over 15 years, Colheita (or Harvest) - a single vintage aged for a shorter period than a true Vintage. Vintage or Frasquiera - aged for at least 20 years.