"A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world" – Louis Pasteur.

One of the bonuses of bad weather is the urge to turn to the bigger wines, those palate-filling big boys with the fruit to sooth and the alcohol to warm us.

Personally it’s about this time of the year when I turn to Madeira, my liquid therapist and one of the most historic wine products for those of you with an eye on the past.

Madeira is one of the classic fortified wines, which means that it’s basically made in the same way as most wines at first but, depending on the sweetness required, fermentation is stopped and the alcohol level is raised with a neutral spirit. Hats off to whoever came up with the original idea because I suspect they have the type of mind I'd love to spend time with, a Spielberg of the wine trade if you like.

Madeira is made in a range of styles, from dry as a bone to the sweetest pudding style you can imagine and it’s the latter end of the spectrum that I consider my happy place. The dry Madeiras are not as user-friendly on the palate as the dry sherry styles of white port, being closer in style to petrol than wine as far as I'm concerned. My favourites are the Boals and Malmsey styles which respectively are medium sweet and sweet, neither of which would normally appeal to me from any other wine region so what is it about Madeira?

It’s probably a combination of the fortification, oak barrels and the heating process that takes a sherry-style wine and adds a superb burnt caramel element that I just crave at this time of the year. The heating effect, by the way, was reportedly discovered by accident after a cargo barrel had an extended stay on board a ship. Whether that's a romantic tale or not, heating the barrels is definitely the magic element that makes Madeira stand out for me.

It’s also a flexible drink in terms of food matching but imagine yourself sitting by a log fire with a glass of this nectar, a wedge of dry rich cheese and a Ken Follett book – that's my idea of relaxation.


  • V. Sattui Madeira, Napa Valley: OK it’s not from Madeira and you have to purchase this one via mail order or visit the vineyard in person, but it is without a doubt the best Madeira in the world in my opinion. Bottled from a 120-year-old Solera, it’s packed with toffee, nuts, burnt caramel and hints of orange. Seriously a wine for any bucket list. V. Sattui online, $62.
  • Barbeito 2001 Mavasio: Packed with dried fruits, caramel and coffee, this is a superb wine that goes well with cheese and – weirdly – vanilla ice cream. Richardson's of Whitehaven, £39.95.