Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s No 1 Soccer star grew up on Madeira. You could say his talent was ‘God-Given’ but the particularly fine flavour of Madeira Wine was a bit of a fluke! Legend has it that sailors stowing away barrels of table wine for their Atlantic crossings found that it was prone to spoiling. Extra alcohol, usually brandy was added to try and stop the wine from going off.
Somehow a cask made it all the way to the Caribbean and back to Madeira ‘unopened’. On sampling, it was discovered that the heat in the ship’s hold coupled with the constant rolling motion had vastly improved the wine’s flavour. Madeira Wine was born!
We met up with LusoLuxury’s Isabel Dantas who worked with Blandy’s Madeira Wine for more than a decade.
“Nowadays, they don’t have to send barrels all the way to the Tropics,” she told us “to achieve Madeira’s vintage wine flavour. We store these fine wines in American oak barrels in Funchal lofts and the sun does the rest.”
You can learn all about the making of Madeira Wine and sample a vintage or two during a tour of Blandy’s Wine Lodge in the centre of Funchal. The Blandys are an English family who first came to these islands in 1807 when John Blandy established himself as a wine shipper, purchasing the property that today houses Blandy Wine Lodges.
The family’s private vintage collection is held within thick stone walls
below-ground to keep it cool. You will enjoy an exclusive view of the collection followed by a tasting in the Vintage Room with Blandy’s head winemaker, Francisco Albuquerque, renowned worldwide with many international awards as the best winemaker of fortified wines.
THE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA
“I don’t think people fully appreciate how much the island of Madeira contributed to the discovery and development of The New World,” Isabel continued. “The Madeiran archipelago was an important port-of-call for Christopher Columbus. He lived for a few years on Porto Santo having married the daughter of the first governor of the island.”
While on Madeira, Columbus made contact with Portuguese navigators who had been exploring Africa’s West Coast who told him of misty, mysterious lands to the west. Columbus believed that by going west he would find a new route to India, China, Japan and the Spice Islands, a short cut that would allow him to bring back rich cargoes of silks and spices. He didn’t actually make landfall on the continental USA but did a good job of discovering the Bahamas, Haiti and the Dominican Republic then on subsequent voyages exploring Central and South America.
THE START OF THE REVOLUTION
“It could even be argued that Madeira Wine fueled the American Revolution!” Isabel continued. “As no wine-making grapes could be grown anywhere among the original thirteen colonies, Madeira Wine became even more popular.”
A shipping agent, John Hancock was the leading importer and eager to increase his profits, he took to smuggling Madeira into the colonies under the noses of the English excisemen but this finally lead to the ceasing of his ship, ‘Liberty’ in the port of Boston.
A lawsuit filed against him by the English governor for unpaid taxes led Hancock to enlist top lawyer of the day and future president, John Adams as his defence attorney. Adams won the case, dealing the first of a string of legal blows to British rule and kindling the fires of revolution. Hancock himself entered into politics, becoming friends with the colonial leaders and no doubt encouraging them to raise a glass of their favourite tipple.
It is a recorded fact that Thomas Jefferson used ‘Malmsey’ to toast the Declaration of Independence while the new nation’s first president, George Washington was a very keen imbiber as were Benjamin Franklin and John Adams.