The island of Madeira has been home to one of the world's most distinctive and widely drank fortified wines for centuries. Back in the 16th and 17th centuries, Portugal was a vastly important nation, keen on discovering the world. Madeira acted as a useful and strategically important port, off the north west coast of Africa, and proved to be an ideal location for viticulture. Indeed, before long the Portuguese were planting hundreds of vineyards, and making the most of the blazing sunshine and mineral rich volcanic soils found all over the island. Grape varietals such as Malvasia and Sercial flourished in the almost-tropical climate, and a wine industry was born which prevails and remains strong to this day, albeit one which is primarily based on a fortified wine developed by the sailors of antiquity.
Most of us are quick to associate Portugal primarily with the excellent fortified wines which come out of the Porto area, but there is much more to Portuguese viticulture than just this. Perhaps the most popular still wines the country produces are the varieties from the Vinho Verde region, which uses grapes that do not achieve high doses of sugar, meaning the wines are at their best when young and full of natural, springy fruit flavors The wines of the Douro region have undergone many transformations in their flavor and character over the centuries; once regarded as a bitter wine, the exporters experimented with fortifying the wine with brandy. After several centuries, vintners found a balance in the modern age which is at once reminiscent of Port wine, yet with the structure and character closer to other fine Portuguese wines. Thanks to the appellation system of Portugal and the strict laws governing wine production, Portuguese wines continue to maintain their reputation for quality and the distinctive characteristics they carry.