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.
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.