Investigations into colonial trade routes explain the accidental invention of Madeira – it’s quintessentially American.
Most Americans are familiar with the term Madeira. They probably came across the word in a high school history text book. It’s what the Founding Fathers drank as they toasted the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Madeira is actually a volcanic island situated off the coast of Portugal in the Mid-Atlantic.
It starts with the triangle of trade during colonial times. Merchant ships departed from various ports in Europe and Africa. They took a pit stop at Madeira for supplies and barrels of wine. The wine would be fortified with a neutral brandy to help the barrels not spoil for the long Atlantic voyage.
While in route to the West Indies, the barrels constantly swayed with the ship constantly mixing and agitating the wine. The wine was exposed to the heat and salty sea air. This gave Madeira its oxidized, salty, and nutty characteristics. The ships would acquire sugar and other commodities at Caribbean ports before departing for the colonies.
Madeira was served with (and still is in my book) soups, stews, and hearty dishes. Colonists usually owned one cast iron pot, and hence, would only have one pot on the fire that was filled with a soup or stew. Flavors were enhanced with the addition of Madeira.
Nowadays, they don’t actually produce Madeira like it was done centuries back. It is aged in oak barrels in climatically controlled rooms that simulate the ocean voyage.
Madeira comes in a wide range of styles from dry to sweet and can be served chilled or at room temperature. So, next time you’re at the liquor store, pick up a bottle of Madeira.