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Madeira: A Cozy Wine That Pairs With Anything

In the cold winter months, my thoughts always turn to warming wines, and at the top of my list is Madeira. Caramel-colored, luscious, nutty and slightly smoky, with bright mouth-tingling acid, I find it an ideal nightcap for a chilly evening.

But it’s not just the flavor that appeals—Madeira is likely the only fine wine in the world that is virtually indestructable. You can store a bottle over your stove or keep one open for six months on the kitchen counter, and it will taste the same as the day you first popped the cork. Trust me—I’ve tried it. Though keeping an open bottle of anything around for that long requires serious self-restraint.

The reason Madeira keeps so well is that wine makers do very bad things to it before it goes into a bottle—things that would destroy most other wines. The wine is aged in oak barrels in rooms heated to over 100 degrees, and exposed to air, allowing it to oxidize.

Seems like a strange thing to do to a fine wine, but it is all an attempt to emulate what happened on the voyage to America during Colonial times. Back then, Madeira was the drink of choice—more desirable than any other wine or  even beer. Barrels imported from Madeira, a tiny island off the coast of Africa, took a long sea voyage, eventually rolling into harbors up and down the North Shore, having aged on the journey. Historical records show Madeira was used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and closer to home, a bottle was used to christen the USS Constitution.

Resilience  is only one selling point—with four different styles, ranging from the nearly dry Sercial, to the sweet, rich Malmsey, there is a Madeira to compliment any food including  pineapples, chocolate, coffee, and other foods that are notoriously difficult to pair.

One of the best selections of Madeira in the area is at Kappy’s Fine Wine & Spirits on Route 1 in Malden, which carries four or five brands, ranging from entry level to high-end vintage. New to Madeira? Kappy’s wine manager Greg Knowlton advises thinking about your palate. “A customer might like sweeter wines, like certain Rieslings, Port, and others, so for them I would start [with] Malmsey and Bual. If a customer likes dry white wines, such as Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc, and perhaps, a good Fino Sherry, I might recommend a Sercial or Verdelho.”

Entry-level Madeira runs about $18 a bottle, but if you can spare the money and enjoy something on the sweeter side, I’d recommend the Boston Bual ($50) from the Rare Wine Company Historic Series. RWC blends vintage Madeiras with younger ones to craft a taste similar to what the colonists cherished while mimicing a vintage product that could cost upwards of $175. At around 18 percent alcohol, you’re not likely to finish a bottlebut remember, it keeps forever.