Is Madeira one of the best Portuguese wines?

For many, Madeira wine is used primarily for its versatility in cooking. But it can also be delicious to drink on its own. Here’s a quick history of one of the most underpraised Portuguese wines, and a few of the fortified wines to try.

Madeira’s history as one of the best Portuguese wines

The Portuguese Madeira Islands are just off the coast of Africa, and the famous wine comes in a number of styles. From dry versions that are nice to drink on their own, to sweeter Madeira wines that go perfectly with dessert, there are plenty of varieties. Some of the cheaper versions used primarily for cooking are flavoured with pepper and salt.

Madeira’s winemaking history goes way back to the end of the 15th century. At that time Madeira was a stop in port for ships heading out to the East Indies or the New World. The local winemaking industry made wine for the ships, and to preserve it on long sea journeys, mixed in neutral grape spirits. When a consignment of unused wine returned to the island after a long round trip, the winemakers discovered that the heat and movement of the journey transformed the wine’s flavour.

They then began storing the wine in special rooms exposed to the hot sun, so that the wine would replicate these changes. Into the 18th century, Madeira became more and more popular. All the way around the world, from Brazil in the New World to the colonies in America, people developed a taste for it.

Fall and rise of Madeira wine

The Madeira boom ended somewhere in the middle of the 19th century, after various mildews and moulds began to blight the wine. By the start of the 20th century, sales had risen again, until American Prohibition in the 1930s and the Russian Civil War after the revolution destroyed two major markets for the fortified wine.

During the rest of the 20th century, Madeira continued to lose some of its popularity as a drinking wine. It became known as a lower quality cooking wine. In 1988, a Portuguese family invested in the owner of many Madeira brand names – the Madeira Wine Company. They relaunched it and marketed specifically towards America, which was the start of the wine’s rebirth.

Producers began to focus on higher quality Madeira again by replanting the noble grape varieties of Malvasia, Bual and Sercial. Today, the major markets for Madeira are France, Germany and Benelux, with growing markets in the US, Japan and the UK.

Madeira is one of the great Portuguese wines – here are three to try

  1. Barbeito Rainwater Reserve Madeira

This Madeira is really delicious as a cooking ingredient, but it’s too good not to enjoy on its own. It has a combination of nuttiness and dried citrus flavours with an acidity overtone. This Rainwater blend is medium-dry and relatively light.

  1. H&H 10-Year-Old Sercial Madeira

Madeira has the added advantage of staying fresh for ages, no matter how long it’s been open it will retain its character. And while it’s often assumed this is the same with other fortified wines, Madeira holds up better than Sherry or Port after being open for a while. This longevity is down to the production process that uses heat to age the wine.

  1. Blandy’s Alvada Madeira

This Madeira is rich and sweet and ideal to drink with dessert, showing just how many varieties there are. The high alcohol content of Madeira puts some people off considering it a wine to drink rather than cook with. It goes up to about 19%, but for a sipping dessert wine it’s absolutely perfect. Maybe it’s time Madeira came out of the pantry and went back on the table where it belongs.

Four Australian wines make the official list for most admired wine brands 2020

The Drinks International list of World’s Most Admired Wine Brands 2020 includes four Australian wines – the most from any one country. A panel of 200 wine lovers and wine professionals from 48 different countries test out wines from all around the world to make up the list every year.

 

Votes are based on the wine’s quality, its branding, taste, packaging and marketing. Above all, the panel decides whether the wine appeals well to wide-ranging demographic. The four Australian wines that made the top 20 are: Penfolds at number 2, 19 Crimes at number 4, Henschke at number 18 and Yellow Tail at number 20. Here is the list in full:

 

World’s Most Admired Brands 2020

 

  1. Catena – Argentina
  2. Penfolds – Australia
  3. Torres – Spain
  4. 19 Crimes – Australia
  5. Concha Y Toro – Chile
  6. Antinori – Italy
  7. Symington – Portugal
  8. Villa Maria – New Zealand
  9. Vega Sicilia – Spain
  10. Cloudy Bay – New Zealand
  11. Errazuriz – Chile
  12. Barefoot – United States
  13. Esporao – Portugal
  14. Ridge – United States
  15. Sassicaia – Italy
  16. Guigal – France
  17. Ramon Bilbao – Spain
  18. Henschke – Australia
  19. Cono Sur – Chile
  20. Yellow Tail – Australia

 

According to Martin Green, editor of Drinks International, only 50 elite wine brands made it to the tastings. He says: “To win a place on this prestigious list is a tremendous achievement, particularly as a number of great producers missed out.

Four of the best wine brands are from Australia

 

Penfolds, which is from Treasury Wine Estates, one of Australia’s most loved wine brands, came first in 2019. And while they’ve dropped to second this year, the memory of 2019’s win is still strong, as it marked their 175th anniversary year.

 

Number 4 in this year’s list is 19 Crimes. This is named after the 19 crimes that led to British convicts being banished to Australia via ‘transportation’. These convicts became colonists who forged the New World. The 19 crimes include grand and petty larceny, buying and selling stolen goods, stealing copper, iron or lead, arson, stealing letters, assault, stealing fish, stealing trees, bigamy and, perhaps most intriguingly, “impersonating an Egyptian.”

 

At number 18, Henschke is a new entry. Henschke is one of the most well-established family owned wineries in Australia, going back 150 years and six generations. Another family-owned Australian winery in the list is Yellow Tail, which comes in 20th.

 

The list has been going since 2011 and was started by Drinks International to help honour and celebrate global wide brands for their consumer appeal.

 

 

Online wine sales are increasing due to coronavirus

With billions of people now under some form of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic sweeping the world, there have been major changes in the way people are shopping.

Bars, restaurants and cafes are all shut down in the UK, in much of Europe and across some of North America among other regions. With everyone housebound, wine aficionados have had to find new ways to ensure they have enough in. And naturally this has meant a huge uptick in online wine sales.

Online wine sales are rapidly increasing

The wine industry is going through a patch of sales that is rivalling, if not beating, the Christmas rush. For example, US based wine club Winc told Forbes that it has seen an increase of 578% in new members week over week. Sales are also rising fast, with a 49.6% increase in consumer direct sales.

According to Nielsen, wine sales in the US were up by 27.6% in the week ending 14 March 2020, compared with the same week in 2019. Wine app Vivino is also showing massive increases, with its highest recorded sales date on 13 March 2020. In both the US (162%) and Italy (282%), the app has seen a huge increase of merchandise sold.

Now that the majority of people are working form home and having to enforce strict social distancing measures, home consumption of wine will continue to rise. And alongside this will be a wider take up of ecommerce for the wine sector. While wine sales online have always been relatively popular, they’ve lagged behind sales in pubs, bars and restaurants. As this is temporarily halted, we will continue to see the ecommerce sector for wine sales expand.

Some sellers are struggling to keep up with demand

Other smaller wine companies in America have also witnessed sales take off rapidly. Gold Medal is an independent wine club that curates limited production wines from California. Owner David Chesterfield explained to Forbes that the company has seen an increase in revenue of $517,800 in 28 days when compared with the previous 28 days. This is more than a 200% increase.  Some small wine shops are hastily moving online for the first time, in order to keep employees paid and businesses going.

Here in the UK, the situation is much the same. Since 21 March, when the bars, restaurants and clubs were formally closed by the government as part of the nation’s efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus, sales of wine and other alcoholic drinks continue to climb.

Some online wine sellers have had to temporarily pause orders in order to keep on top of restocking. Naked Wines told the Times that: “… we’ve made the decision to temporarily pause accepting orders while we work through existing ones.” Sales for French and Italian wines for the company jumped to 68% last week, and English wine sales are also increasing.

It remains to be seen how online retailers will cope with the surge in demand, and how much of these sales increases are down to stockpiling. Pubs are beginning to sell alcohol as takeout as part of creative ways to keep in business, and this could bring online sales down again.

However, at Ideal Wine Company, we believe this could be a turning point for wine and ecommerce. As people become used to buying wine online during the pandemic, it’s highly likely that this will continue when restaurants and pubs begin to open their doors again.

German ice wine scuppered by warm winter

For the first time in many years, German ice wine isn’t being produced. A warmer than average winter means that temperatures failed to drop low enough in German vineyards to make the ice wine. And with climate change affecting the wine industry all around the world, this could be a sign of things to come.

What is German ice wine?

Eiswein in German, ice wine is a type of dessert wine. The winemaking process includes grapes being frozen while still on the vine. When this happens, the water freezes but sugars don’t, which allows winemakers to develop a more concentrated, sweeter grape juice.

Ice wines need the freezing process to happen before fermentation, rather than afterwards. Other dessert wines are made from grapes that are affected by noble rot (botrutis cinereal). This is what gives wines from the Tokaji, Sauternes and Trockenbeerenauslese an intense, sweet flavour. But German ice wines are free of noble rot, giving it a refreshing and distinct sweetness nicely balanced by acidity. An ice wine harvest usually happens before New Year, and in some cases afterwards.

Producing ice wine is always a risk for winemakers, as the grapes can rot before the frosts come. It also means that there has to be a large workforce able to harvest the grapes while they’re frozen, which means a tight timeframe. This is why there is usually small amounts of ice wine worldwide. Its production is limited to regions in the world that get cold enough, and Canada remains the biggest producer. Germany is the second biggest producer of ice wines, until the 2019 harvest.

Warmer winters mean less ice wine

The German Wine Institute announced recently that temperatures failed to fall to the necessary temperature of -7C (19F) in the winter of 2019/2020. This applies to all German wine growing regions and means there won’t be any ice wine from this year’s crop.

As there have been a number of warm winters in a row, Germany’s ice wine production has been steadily dropping. Just seven winemakers from Germany made ice wine in 2017 after only five were able to in 2013.

Ernst Buscher from the German Wine Institute told the Guardian that should warm winters continue into the future, Germany’s ice wines will become even more expensive and rare.

The main markets for German ice wine are the US, Scandinavia, Japan and China. It looks as those ice wine will become more sought after and reach higher prices among fine wine collectors as climate change continues to affect growers around the world.

How is coronavirus affecting the global wine industry

Coronavirus continues to cause concern around the world, affecting global stocks and many business sectors. And there is also fallout within the wine industry around the world.

The virus has now reached every continent apart from Antarctica, with countries including China and Iran suffering the highest number of fatalities so far. And as consumers in China cut back on buying wine, and cases remain stranded at customs, winemakers are seeing stocks fall.

Coronavirus is affecting wine industry

China is the biggest market for luxury wine in the world. The country accounts for just under a third of LVMH (Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton) sales, which covers Cloudy Bay, Dom Perignon and Moet & Chandon. China also accounts for 10% of all sales of Pernod Ricard, which includes Jacob’s Creek and Campo Viejo.

And as the market slows, global brands are expecting major hits to sales. Spain’s biggest wine company, Torres, expects a 50% fall in March 2020. Bordeaux wines, which are very popular in China and the wider Asian market, fell 38.3% in the second week of February. According to Liv-ex, this is a record low.

Australia is also seeing strong hits to wine sales, particularly following the massive fires of recent months. With vineyard damage affecting some sales, other grapes have been affected by smoke taint. China imports about $1.3 billion worth of wine from Australia each year, which is 20% of the national crop. According to Forbes, sales were down for Australia wine by 90% in January and February 2020.

Wine shows are being postponed

China was due to host the massive China Food & Drinks Fair in Chengdu this month, but it has had to be postponed due to the virus. This annual show attracts 300,000 buyers and 3,000 exhibitors and aims to link up global distributors and promoters.

Other shows including the China International Alcoholic Drinks Expo (CIADE), TaoWine and the TWC Chengdu Fine Wine Showcase have also been moved to later in the year.

Imports have been particularly affected by coronavirus, due to dwindling numbers of customs officials. For example, usually around 33% of all Chilean wine goes to China but since the start of the year, exports have dropped by 60%. Before the outbreak of the virus, China imported approximately 350 containers of Chilean wine every day. Right now, 50 cases are going through customs daily. The rest are stuck at the port.

Exports are rerouted to ease port congestion

To mitigate the backlogs at Chinese ports, brands are trying to reroute shipments. However, with Italy and other countries reporting more cases every day, and more than 50,000 people under quarantine, alternative routes may also be difficult to access.

In China there has also been a huge fall in operating income across food and drinks businesses. According to the China Culinary Association, operating income has dropped 100% across more than three-quarters of businesses. This means that while food and drink companies are paying wages, insurance and rent, no money is coming in.

Fewer people are going out to eat and drink, which is also impacting wine sales. And while brands are trying to increase deliveries to make up for the money they’re losing, drivers are reluctant to risk catching the virus. Despite this, alcohol delivery companies have seen a 50% growth in February in China, after a leap of 60% over the Chinese New Year.

As the virus continues to spread, it’s likely that fine wine collectors and regular consumers will notice shortages in supply.