The beautiful and sun-drenched island of Madeira, found off of the north west coast of Africa and which are part of Portugal, have long been the home to one of the world's most loved and widely drank fortified wines, named after the island itself. Madeira is a fascinating island, and one which played an important role in the discovery of the wider world, as it was a vital port between Europe and Africa, or the Americas to the west. The island has been producing wines since the 17th century, when the fortified wine it is famous for was first made, by adding grape spirits to still wines in order to stop it from turning bad on the long sea voyages. Today, the island still has a rich wine industry, helped by the almost tropical oceanic climate it enjoys, and the exceptional soils which support a wide range of grape varietals.
Portugal has been an important center for wine production ever since the Phoenicians and Carthaginians discovered that the many native grape varietals that grow in the country could be cultivated for making excellent wines. After all, Portugal has something of an ideal wine producing climate and terrain; lush green valleys, dry, rocky mountainsides and extremely fertile soil helped by long, hot summers and Atlantic winds. Today, such a climate and range of terroir produces an impressive variety of wines, with the best wines said to be coming out of the Douro region, the Alentejo and the Colares region near Lisbon. Portugal has an appellation system two hundred years older than France's, and much effort is made by regulating bodies to ensure that the quality of the country's produce remains high, and the wines remain representative of the regions they are grown in.