This is a white grape variety that probably originates from the region of Bucelas, near Lisboa, where it is traditionally grown under the name Esgana Cão (Dog Strangler), having been introduced in Madeira, where it was given the name Sercial.
Sercial bunches are medium sized, thin skinned and the berries are prone to rot. It has a very late ripening and is resistant to oidium and mildium, being normally the last grape variety to be harvested. This slow maturation, the result of the terroir where it is grown, produces wines that rarely achieve more than 11% alcohol before fortification.
In Madeira Wine, due to its natural mouthwatering, tangy, crisp and racy acidity, balanced by its slight sweetness, Sercial is always used to produce dry wines, which are light bodied and exceptionally fresh, and present intense and vibrant aromas. Sercial begins its life pale in color, but over the course of time it deepens and darkens to amber.
Verdelho can be found since the seventeenth century and was probably brought from northern continental Portugal during the early days of settlement on the island. Before the arrival of phylloxera in Madeiram, in 1872, Verdelho represented approximately two thirds of the vineyards of Madeira.
This variety requires deep soils with some degree of moisture. It has low yields per ha and early ripening. Grapes are normally picked by the end of September, and produce gold coloured medium dry elegant wines which have a tropical and exotic character.
The varietal offers compact and small bunches with a few berries. The must has moderate sugar levels and a marked acidity. In Madeira Wine, Verdelho is always vinified to produce medium-dry fortified wines.
As most of the varietals on the island, Terrantez was brought from the north of mainland Portugal, where it goes by the name of Folgasão. For many centuries this varietal has always been used in the production of premium wines, achieving high prices in the market.
Rare, Terrantez grapes are white, thin-skinned and extremely fragile. The compact bunches and berries make it prone to botrytis and berry splitting. The yields are very low and ripening late
Due to its fragile nature, it has been replaced by more prolific varieties, and was therefore almost brought to extinction. Lately, the family has persuaded growers to bring back production levels. Any Terrantez Madeira is rare enough to be worth trying.
Bual, or Boal as it is also called in Madeira, is a white grape variety that originated on the Portuguese mainland (or continente as it is known in Madeira) having been planted in the Douro and Dão for centuries, where it goes by the name of Malvasia Fina. This varietal name covers not one but 16 grape varieties in Portugal, as Cincinnato da Costa writes in “O Portugal Viticola”. In Wine Grapes (Robinson et al.) viticulturalist Rolando Faustino suggests that it is probably from the Douro but due to its wide genetic diversity neither Dão nor the Lisbon region can be ruled out.
This varietal is quite vigorous and relatively easy to grow, only moderately susceptible to powdery mildew (Oidium) and botrytis bunch rot, and has a late budding, allowing it not be so exposed to the risk of spring frosts. Its bunches are large, and ripen early.
In Madeira Wine, thanks to its good acidity that balances the sweetness, Bual produces medium bodied, light copper-coloured medium sweet wines that are intensively perfumed, rich in spice and dried fruit, and achieve admirable longevity.
Malmsey should not be viewed as a single variety (there are so many different grapes named Malvasia) but as style of wine. In “Wine Grapes” (Robinson et al.) the authors make this point, stating that Malvasia is a generic name given to a wide range of distinct white-, pink-, grey-, or black-skinned varieties which share an ability to produce sweet wines high in alcohol. The planted area is now stable at around 39 ha (96 acres).
The grapes are sweet and produce rich full-bodied wines that are dark in colour. On the mouth, the bouquet reveals notes of spices and honey. It bears no relation to the prized Malvasia Candida, introduced to Madeira in the 15th century, of which there are now only 3 hectares growing on Madeira, exclusively on the south coast.
A young Malmsey Madeira is light golden in colour, whereas old Malmseys dark amber tonalities. Rich, smooth and luscious on the palate, showing complex notes of moka, dried fruit and honey, hints of tropical fruit, butterscotch, toffee-nuts and marmalade.
The only red grape variety used in Madeira Wine. Introduced after the phylloxera plague, this varietal has a thicker skin compared to the white varietals, higher yields, and more vigor. Versatile and productive, it accounts for approximately 80% of the island production, being used predominately to make 3 year old wines, although not exclusively.
The family currently has large stocks of Tinta Negra ageing in oak barrels.