Buzz: Hey, Marnie, I was reading that George Washington was a wine drinker. Turns out his favorite wine was Madeira. What the heck is that?
Marnie: Madeira is a beautiful tropical island off the coast of North Africa that is part of Portugal. The wine made there was uncommonly affordable during the American Revolution because at the time, it was the only wine sold here that was free of taxes or duties.
Buzz: So you're saying our first president liked cheap wine?
Marnie: That's not the point, Buzz. Madeira wines were then among the world's finest and still are today. But George liked getting a good deal as much as you do. In one of his surviving letters ordering wine, he asked for "the best" of "the rich, oily Madeira." That would mean he wanted the very heaviest and sweetest of Madeiras. Since these wines are fortified with brandy, they have a viscous texture similar to that of a liqueur.
Buzz: Wow, George Washington liked the sweet stuff. No wonder he lost his teeth.
Marnie: Madeira can be sweet or dry, but the most richly textured are often also the sweetest and the darkest in color. Luckily, the style's bracing acidity ensures they are never cloying. Madeiras can be made with white or red grapes, but look more like whiskies than wines in the glass since they're made in an unusual way.
Buzz: You mean they didn't make them in the basement and keep them in the cool dark with the other wines?
Marnie: No, Buzz. Where most wines are carefully kept cool to preserve their freshness, Madeira wines are deliberately heated and aged in casks for unusually long periods.
Buzz: What do you mean by "unusually long"? I thought all fine wines are aged long.
Marnie: Well, red wines are rarely aged longer than two years in barrels. The youngest, most affordable Madeira wines are aged for three or five years. The best are aged for 20, 30, or 40 years. In fact, some vintage dated wines are still available from the 1800s.
Buzz: Holy cow, the 1800s! Talk about a taste of history.
Marnie: Yes, and something the Founding Fathers would have appreciated about Madeira is still true today - the wines are long-lasting. Other wines start to spoil once you open the bottle, but not Madeira. You could pour yourself a glass once a year for Christmas, and the wine will still taste fabulous - like roasted almonds and candied orange peel.