What Exactly is Madeira Wine? - Chromatography Explores
Apr 05 2020
What exactly is Madeira wine? Simple you might think, wine made on Madeira. But behind that simple answer is a product that is complex, unique and a firm favourite of America’s Founding Fathers. A recent paper published in a special issue of the journal Beverage (Wide World of Beverage Research: Reviews of Current Topics) reports on a review carried out by scientists from the Universidade da Madeira into Madeira wine. Let’s peer into the glass and see how chromatography shows Madeira wine’s special qualities.
More than fortified wine
Madeira is a fortified wine that is made on the island of Madeira - a Portuguese island located in the Atlantic Ocean a few hundred miles off the coast of West Africa. The wine has been produced for many centuries, and due to a loophole in English law was the only type of wine that could be exported to New World colonies from English ports. Hence, its popularity with the Founding Fathers.
Over 302 million litres of wine were produced in 2017 generating over 19 million euros for the small island. The wine has a crucial impact on the island’s economy. There are several conditions that go to make the wine special in particular, the terroir, the grape varieties and the wine-making process itself. The terroir is a simple world used to describe the environmental factors involved - geography, geology, slope aspect and micro-climate.
There are five main grape varieties used in Madeira wines. They include Malvasia, Boal, Sercial and Verdelho which are all white varieties. A red variety known as Tinta Negra is also used. The white varieties are known as the noble varieties and are used to bring special characteristics to each style of wine. By adjusting the fermentation time and grape variety, different sugar contents can be obtained.
Fortified and cooked - not like normal wines
There are two processes that set Madeira apart from some other wines. During the fermentation process, natural grape spirit is added to the wine to increase the alcohol content to around 20%. Madeira wine is then placed into large vats. The temperature is slowly increased until a temperature of 45-50˚C is reached. The wine is held at this temperature for a period of three months before it is casked in oak casks. It will spend between 3 and 20 years in the casks before it is bottled.
Chromatography sniffs out volatiles and non-volatiles
Similar to most wine, there are certain components that make the wine stand out from the other wines lining the supermarket shelves. The review paper referenced above reports on how research teams have used gas chromatography to explore the volatiles and non-volatiles in Madeira wines. The use of chromatography to analyse food samples is discussed in the article, Vacuum Assisted Headspace Solid-phase Microextraction: A Powerful Tool for Olive Oil Analysis.
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