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.
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.