Portugal's island of Madeira, found off the north west coast of Africa, is best known for the production of Madeira wine, a rich and aromatic fortified wine which was once produced by sailors looking for ways to extend the life of the still wines they had made for their long sea voyages. Madeira wine is still made to this day on the island, where the copious vineyards which cover the more accessible parts enjoy year round sunshine, and an oceanic, tropical climate ideal for growing big, juicy and highly flavorful and aromatic grapes. The majority of grapes grown on Madeira are of the Malvasia and Sercial varietals, although a relatively wide range of grapes can be and is used in the production of dry or sweet Madeira wine.
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.