Madeira Makes a Comeback

Bartenders everywhere are turning to this storied fortified wine of Portugal to add a flavorful boost to their cocktails.
Photo by Aaron Graubart

Portugal’s fortified wine is getting a boost in the cocktail world, as savvy bartenders are using Madeira to add flavor to drinks.

“Depending on which style you’re using in which drink, Madeira can offer salinity or other interesting qualities that can’t be found in other distilled spirits or liqueurs,” says Alba Huerta, owner/operator of Julep Bar in Houston.

At Julep, Huerta uses the fortified wine in two cocktails. In The Truth & Slant, Rainwater Madeira adds a lightly saline touch to blended Scotch and citrus liqueur. A highball-style drink called the Attic Cellar Kalimocho features five-year-old Bual Madeira, a richer, sweeter style that adds dried fig and spice notes.

Echoing the recent Sherry revival, some bartenders are embracing Madeira to build low-alcohol cocktails. In Austin, Backbeat offers an autumn-ready Beeton Cobbler, which features an unusual, Texas-made Rainwater-style “Madeira” from Haak Vineyards & Winery, sweetened with honey and orange marmalade.

Everything You Need To Know About Sherry

The fortified wine has gathered momentum in the South, which was the epicenter of Madeira consumption in America during colonial days.

At its outposts in Nashville and Charleston, South Carolina, popular restaurant Husk offers a robust list of Madeiras alongside its wine and spirits. It includes the “Historic Series” lineup from The Rare Wine Co., which features nonvintage Madeiras that spotlight styles historically favored in various American cities, like the Charleston Sercial (a dry, crisp style) or New York Malmsey (a rich style with fruitcake-like flavors).

But that doesn’t mean Yankees aren’t enjoying it, too. At Gracie’s in Providence, Rhode Island, the Get In The Cah cocktail mixes 10-year-old Madeira with blended Scotch, Aperol and black walnut bitters, accented with a touch of fleur de sel, while at Manhattan’s Covina, the dessert-ready Boston Flip mixes Madeira with Bourbon and an egg, for a touch of custardy richness.

A growing number of whiskey producers are using former Madeira casks to add subtle flavor to spirits, echoing the widespread use of former Sherry casks. What could be next? Consider these Madeira-inflected spirits, adding more delightful dimensions to your next drink.

TASTING NOTES: Three Madeira-Finished Spirits

Laphroaig Cairdeas Madeira; $75, 51.6% abv.
Think fruitcake toasted over a campfire; orange peel and spice inter­twine with Islay Scotch’s famously peaty profile.
High Wire Distilling Co. New Southern Revival Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Madeira Barrels; $70, 45% abv, 90 points.
From craft distiller High Wire in Charleston, South Carolina, look for plenty of dark fruit and honey sliding into a long finish.
WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey Old World Series: Madeira; $118, 45% abv, 94 points.
Bold and flavorful, this 12-year-old rye takes on delicious gingerbread, caramel and spice notes.
Published on October 6, 2016
Topics: Fortified Wines
About the Author
Kara Newman 
Spirits Editor

Kara Newman reviews spirits and writes about spirits and cocktail trends for Wine Enthusiast. She's the author of several cocktail books, including Shake.Stir.Sip. and NIGHTCAP: More than 40 Cocktails to Close Out Any Evening, which debuts in September 2018. Email: spirits@wineenthusiast.net




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