Portugal's island of Madeira has long been home to one of the world's most recognizable and widely loved fortified wines. Madeira wine was first produced by sailors, who added grape spirits to the wines of Madeira in order to preserve them better on long journeys. Before long, people all over Europe had developed a taste for this highly aromatic, strongly flavored fortified wines, and the wine industry of the small Portuguese island flourished and grew from strength to strength. Madeira is an island highly suited to wine production and vineyard cultivation, with beautiful year round sunshine, and a tropical oceanic climate which allows the grape varietals which grow there to ripen slowly and fully. Add to this a highly fertile volcanic set of soils, and you have viticultural magic which has lasted throughout the centuries, and will no doubt continue to thrive in the future.
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.