Glasses of Madeira were raised to toast the Declaration of Independence. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and many other Founders enjoyed it. Although obscure in today’s America, operators agree that Madeira is an attractive after-dinner option given its blend of flavor, history and value. That’s why some beverage directors are listing it as an alternative to costly Ports and dessert wines.
“Madeira is mainly a hand-sell, but when people try it, they usually like it,” says W. Scott Harper, M.S., corporate beverage director of the Bristol Bar & Grille, a five-unit casual chain based in Louisville, Ky. He offers generous 3.5-ounce pours of Madeiras such as Blandy’s 5 Year Old Verdelho, $6.25, Broadbent Malmsey 10 Year Old, $10.75, and a vintage-dated upscale choice, Broadbent 1964 Bual, $29. There’s also a Madeira tasting flight with different ages and sweetness levels, priced at $8.25. “Madeira rocks,” says Harper. “It goes well with dessert, and it’s dessert in a glass.”
Madeira is made in a tiny cluster of Portuguese islands located off the coast of Africa. Historically, Madeira shippers sent casks in the holds of sailing vessels through the tropics, subjecting them to intense heat and oxidation. That was found to uniquely improve the flavor and keeping ability of the wines.
Because a bottle of Madeira recorked after opening will keep indefinitely, it is eminently practical for on-premise operators. No preservation system is needed. “You’re not concerned about having it go bad or having to take care of the whole bottle once it’s open,” says Harper.
Related story: After-Dinner Opportunities