Madeira Wine – Rooted in history

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One of the many advantages on an apartment in the centre of Funchal are the number of places that can be visited without walking far. The old part of Funchal with its narrow streets and houses with wrought iron balconies sits alongside grand old properties given new leases of life beside wide boulevards and streets.

One of the oldest street in Funchal runs past the famous Blandy’s Wine Lodge, a must see attraction for most visitors. Last time we went we were too late for a tour, so we made sure we were in plenty time on this occasion.

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One of the oldest streets. It runs past Blandy’s Wine Lodge.

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Even manages to squeeze in tables and chairs for eating out.

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Then widens into a street of imposing houses and interesting restaurants.

But back to the wine lodge where we toured the visible attractions before our official tour started.

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The courtyard where you can sit and wait for your tour, visit the shop or the vintage room , or wander round a collection of old Madeira wine-making equipment.

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A grape press that must have taken some strength to operate.

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A hefty piece of kit for some part of the process.

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A bag (presumably animal stomach – didn’t ask) in which the grape growers transported the grape juice to Blandy’s. Nowadays the grapes are collected and pressed in a modern wine-making factory.

We gathered in the vintage room to await our guide and drool over the shelves of vintage Madeira. All bottles were for sale – at a cost. So only for the most special of occasions.

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Cabinets displaying bottles of vintage Madeira under the various names used by the company over the years.

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Wine name, date and company name are stencilled on in white paint, making the bottles very distinctive.

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I suspect even the dust may be vintage.

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These are under the name ‘Leacock’.

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Coming up for its century.

At the start of the tour we expected cool cellars, but instead found warm attics. Madeira, unlike other wines, requires warmth to age, so enormous wooden vats squat on well-strengthened floors on the first and second storeys of the wine lodge.

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Slowly maturing in the semi-dark warmth.

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Rows upon rows upon rows of wooden barrels filled with maturing wine.

Here too is a delicious aroma, not quite of Madeira but more of warm honey and herbs, a smell of summer fields and promises that belies the dark rooms with their rows of barrels.

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Strong floors are required for this lot. The size can by judged by the height of the man on the right.

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The company has its own cooperage to make and repair barrels. The wood was beautiful with a rich colour but rough texture. The smell was wonderful.

In the museum room videos show how grapes used to be picked by families and transported to collection centres. The grapes are still family grown on small plots as Madeira’s geography doesn’t allow for a more mass production approach. So the grapes that make Madeira continue to come from hundreds of small producers.

The museum has some fascinating old pieces of machinery, and displays of seals and labels as well as certificates. Unfortunately we didn’t get time to look in detail.

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A book showing some of the labels that were used at one time, all carrying logos of the many awards the wines have won. 

The end of the tour saw us in the bar area where we were each poured two glasses of Madeira of different kinds, sweetness and age. Most were happy to quaff and go, but I could have lingered to enjoy the experience.

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When in Madeira you definitely have to enjoy the local drink. Cheers.

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About jingsandthings

I am me. What do I like? Colour Shapes Textures Paintings, photographs, sculptures, woven tapestries, wonderful materials. The love of materials probably comes from my father who was a textile buyer, and I grew up hearing the names of mills and manufacturers which sounded magical and enticing. Glass in all its soft and vibrant colours and flowing shapes, even sixties glass which makes its own proud statement. A book I can immerse myself in. Meals with family or friends with lots of chat and laughter (and probably a bottle or two of wine). The occasional trip abroad to experience the sights, sounds, food, conversation, quality of light and warmth of other countries. To revel in differences and be amazed by similarities. I like to create and to experience, to try and to achieve. And then there are words – read, heard, written at my keyboard, or scrawled on sticky notes, or along the edges of dog-eared supermarket receipts excavated from the unexplored nooks of my handbag. What do I dislike? Cold Snow Bad design Fast food Condescension
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4 Responses to Madeira Wine – Rooted in history

  1. Chris says:

    Fascinating. I love those narrow winding streets and how the residents fit so much into them. No tasting notes on the Madeira you tried?

  2. We’ve enjoyed many glasses of Madeira on our stays. Often you are greeted to hotels, shops and trips by a glass. Blandy’s is probably one of the best Madeira wine companies, but I’m not knocking any of them, even the local supermarket’s own brand tasted pretty good. The day of the visit we were given two glasses but I was so busy taking photographs I didn’t quite take in what they were. One was older than the other, but to be honest they both tasted pretty good to me. If there had been more time and we had been talked through the process then maybe I’d have been able to differentiate, but our time was running out and our guide was off to another group.

    There are different sweetnesses. When there, I like a glass of the very dry before a meal with the medium sweet as a liqueur. The taste is a bit like sherry, but I prefer the Madeira, maybe because I associate it with such enjoyable times.

  3. Great images! Thanks for sharing. I love the description of th way the barrel rooms smelled.

    • Thank you. I love Madeira and Funchal is such a warm, welcoming place. I can’t think of Funchal without Madeira wine – it’s everywhere, for buying and drinking and glasses of it are often given free on arrival at hotels, on whale/dolphin cruises and at many attractions. The Madeira Wine Company and streets around it are great places to explore.

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