Friday, October 24, 2014

Madère, Vin de Madère - Madeira Wine. Madeira Wine in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
   Updated June 2017
Madeira Wines
Photograph courtesy of Patrick Barry
Vin de Madère  - Madeira wine.
Madeira is a smooth, fragrant, and opulent fortified wine with an alcohol content of between 18-21 percent. The wine comes from the Portuguese Madeira Islands in the North Atlantic.  There are four grades of sweetness for Madeira wines and they are: seco-dry, meio seco- medium dry, meio doce-medium sweet and doce-sweet.
(A fortified wine is made by ending the fermentation that takes place in the barrels by adding an eau-de-vie, a grape alcohol, to the wine.  Ending the fermentation before it is naturally completed controls and raises the amount of alcohol in the wine and the level of sweetness).  
Madeira wine is a longtime favorite in French cuisine and your menu may offer:
Soupe à l'Oignon et au Madère Gratinée  French onion soup served with toasted bread and cheese on top, browned under the grill before serving.  This menu listing has Madeira wine added to the soup and that identifies it as a recipe from the city of Lyon, France.  According to tradition, the city of Lyon uses Madeira or Port for flavoring and the city of Paris uses wine.  To see the link on French onion soup click here.
Rognons de Veau Poêlés, Sauce Madère et Gratin de Pommes Charlotte – Lightly fried veal kidneys prepared in a Madeira sauce and served with mashed Charlotte potatoes browned under the grill before serving. Charlotte is a very popular and tasty French potato; it is not a name for a potato dish. The Charlotte is the potato most often used in France for steamed or mashed potatoes. Sauce Madeira is made with veal stock or veal bouillon, butter, shallots and, of course, Madeira wine.
Foie de Veau Sauté au Madère - Veal liver  sautéed in  a Madeira wine sauce.
Langue de Boeuf aux Petits Légumes, Sauce Madère. – Beef tongue served with baby vegetables and prepared with a Madeira sauce.  Beef tongue with a Madeira wine sauce will be on quite a number of French menus; it is a dish that has remained popular for over one hundred years. Baby vegetables are miniature versions of regular vegetables and were first developed in Italy; since then French creations have been added.

Melon Cavaillon au Jambon de Bayonne ou Madère - Cavaillon melon served with Bayonne cured ham and flavored with Madeira wine.  The Cavaillon melon comes from the beautiful, small Provencal town of the same name, 20 km (13 miles) from Avignon.   The Cavaillon melon is,  I believe, the tastiest melon in France. If you are in France anywhere from mid-June through September when it is in season do not miss out on this melon.  The melon is green on the outside with dark green ribs; inside a ripe Cavaillon melon, the flesh is sweet and orange colored with a heady and memorable scent.  Bayonne ham's name comes from the city of Bayonne; the capital of the Pays Basques, the French Basque Country. Bayonne is in the department of the Pyrenees-Atlantiques and its ham is the most popular cured ham in France.
Cavaillon melon and Bayonne ham.
Photograph courtesy of weldonwk.
Ris de Veau aux Morilles, Sauce Madère – Veal Sweetbreads served with morel mushrooms and Madeira wine sauce.
Tournedos Rossini The most famous of all steak dishes made with Madeira wine; it is named after the Italian composer Gioachino Rossini. Rossini composed the operas, the Barber of Seville and William Tell, along with many others and was loved in France where he lived for many years. Rossini was also a gourmet and considered great chefs as maestros, like himself they were masters of their art.  The cut for a tournedos comes from the cœur de filet de bœuf, the heart, the center, of a fillet of beef; this is the most expensive of all beef cuts.  The same cut is used for a Chateaubriand.  The recipe named after Rossini includes goose foie gras, fattened goose liver, the black Perigord truffle and a Madeira wine sauce.  To see the link on Tournedos Rossini click here.
A Tournedos Rossini
Photograph by Monkey Business through   
The different types of Madeira wine:
Madeira wines made with a single type of grape are considered the finest, but they are also the most expensive. Historically, there were over eleven types of Madeira wines, but only seven or eight were truly single grape wines. Today only four white grapes and one red grape made be used for single grape Madeira wines. These wines are aged and their date of bottling is on the label. A single grape Madeira wine means that at least 85% of the wine comes from a single type of grape and that grape gives the wine its name. However, the most popular Madeira wines are the less expensive, but often excellent blends. The blends also improve with age and may be purchased with different degrees of sweetness. 
Did you forget your Madeira wines in a cellar?
In 50 years you may be pleasantly surprised.
Photograph courtesy of kiljander.
The single grape Madeira wines: 
Sercial is a white wine grape and the driest of all single grape vintage Madeira wines.  Sercial is aged for at least five years before being sold, and as it ages it darkens and mellows. Sercial is the Madeira wine most often served cold as an aperitif.
Sercial wines from1910 on sale.
Photograph courtesy of diego hernandez
Verdelho, a white wine grape makes a golden, semi-dry wine and in France, this wine and the slightly sweeter Bual Madeira wine are the Madeira wines most chefs choose for Sauce Madeira. 
Madeira wine barrels.
Photograph courtesy of Ulf Bodin.
Bual comes from the Boal Cachud white grape. This Madeira wine varies in color from golden to a deep brown as it ages. It is a medium-sweet wine and either this wine or Verdelho will be chosen for Madeira Sauce. Bual may also be served as a digestif, a dessert wine, as an alternative to port.
A  5-year-old Bual Madeira.
Photograph courtesy of Joanna Goldby

Malmsey comes from a white grape called the Malvasia Candida and makes one of the sweetest Madeira wines. Malmsey is a full-bodied wine and is used both as a dessert wine and in sweet desserts, pastries, and sweet sauces.
Tinto Negra also called Tinta Negra Mole
Tinto Negra is the most abundant of all Madeira’s wine grapes. This is a red wine grape and the most popular wine used for adding the 15% permitted to the single grape Madeira wines.  Tinta Negra Madeira wine comes in dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet and sweet wines and accounts for 80%  of all Madeira wine sales. When you see a bottle of Madeira wine without any other name, the chances are that it is Tinto Negra or a blended wine consisting mainly of Tinta Negra.
Learning about Madeira wines in France:
My introduction to the story of Madeira in France was in the home of a French family.  My hosts, in honor of three overseas visitors,  invited a friend who was the cellar master in a Medoc Château to join us all for dinner. The cellar master surprised us all with two great bottles of Medoc from different years; these were seriously special vintage wines that I could not have justified buying myself.  However, the real surprise that evening was the wine the cellar master brought as the digestif; he had brought a wine from outside France!  That wine was a Bual Vintage Madeira that had spent 20 years in an oak barrel before bottling.  With all these wines, our dinner discussions were about nothing else, and I was introduced to the history of Madeira wine in France. 
A Madeira tasting.
Photograph courtesy of fxp
The French suffered from the English control of Madeira wine.

The English controlled most of the Madeira wine trade and as we all know for hundreds of years, England and France were at war. During their incessant wars, the British were always attempting to blockade France. As a result of these blockades, Madeira only seriously entered the French market with the exile of Napoleon I from France in 1815;  then the wars with England ended. From 1815, Madeira became a success story in French cuisine.  The most famous dish from that period using Madeira wine, and still on many menus, is Tournedos Rossini.The dish was  created for tRossini by the legendary French Chef Casimir Moissons in 1822 or 1823. 

Like Sherry and Port the British were the driving force behind the development of Madeira.
From the 16th century, Madeira wine was developed and imported by the English. The English had already made Port and Sherry a staple in the homes of the aristocracy and merchant classes and after Madeira, they added Marsala wine from Sicily.  At that time, all wine was sold in barrels and most wines did not travel well on long sea voyages. Fortified wine, wines whose fermentation in the barrel had been stopped traveled much better. Madeira’s ability to travel well had also made it a favorite in the American colonies. However, in the North American colonies the laws on shipping the wine only on British-owned ships pushed the price of Madeira, their favorite wine, up. That shipping law helped push the movement for  independence to the tipping point.

The treatment of Madeira wines:
Madeira, sherry, and port wines were transported to the British Empire and others in India and the effect of long sea voyages through the tropics was uniquely beneficial to Madeira. Those long sea voyages naturally slowly cooked and oxidized Madeira.  That tropical exposure, in barrels, improved the wines taste and in the kitchen the cooks found they had a wine that could be used without the taste changing. Back on the Islands of Madeira two systems were created to emulate the process without sailing through the tropics, and the rest is history.
Madeira quickly became the most popular fortified wine in  French and other kitchens and has remained there.  Despite  its popularity in the kitchen, most Madeira is consumed as wine.  Madeira wines' use in cooking remain a small part of the market.  
Madeira labels:
Colheita - Single grape Madeira wines aged and marked with a vintage date; these are often young wines

Reserva - Reserve- A  Madeira single grape wine that has spent at least 5 years in an oak barrel before bottling

Reserva Velha - Special reserve – A  Madeira single grape wine that has spent at least 10 years in an oak barrel before bottling
Reserva Extra - Extra Reserve – A  Madeira single grape wine that has spent at least 15 years in an oak barrel before bottling

Frasqueira – A  Madeira single grape wine that has spent at least 20 years in an oak barrel before bottling.
The words used to describe Madeira wines:

The wines’ color:
Muito Pálido – very pale; Pálido – Pale; Dourado – Golden; Meio Escuro – Medium Dark; Escuro – Dark.

The wine’s texture:

Leve – Light or pale, Mencão – full Bodied or full,  Fino – Fine or rich; Macio – Soft;  Aveludado – Velvety; Amadurecido – Mellow.
The Madeira Islands:

Madeira is an archipelago, a group of islands. There are two inhabited islands, Madeira and Porto Santo where the Madeira wine grapes grow with  another six small islands that are uninhabited nature reserves. The Madeira Islands are in the North Atlantic with the nearest land being the Spanish Canary Island of Tenerife  490 km  (300 mi) away.  The nearest landmass is Africa with Morocco  788 km, (490 miles) distant and Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is 967 km, (604 miles) away.


Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2014, 2017/

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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