Madeira Wine Festival

Madeira – an island with the name of a wine, a wine with the name of an island

Tasting Madeira in Madeira and treading grapes at the country’s wine festival was an opportunity not to be missed. 

The Wine VillageThe ‘Wine Village’ at Praca do Povo, the Peoples’ Square, promised  Madeira wines directly from producers, harmonization with gastronomy, concerts, sunset cocktails, wine stories, and chef’s dinner. With temperatures in the mid-twenties when it was raining at home, and with harbour views, this was going to be a tough trip.

Our charming tour guide at Vinhos Barbeito, slipped confidently between Portuguese, French and English as he talked us through four glasses of Madeira all made from the Verdelho white grape. He ended with his favourite, a 1992 vintage wine telling us that Madeira, is pretty indestructible and lasts for years: an opened bottle, unlike port, is still drinkable after a year, and bottles from the late 1800s are not uncommon. He described the latter as drinking a sip of history. The structured tastings, 30 people for 30 minutes, were free but advance booking was essential. However, there were lots of small wooden booths dotted around the village for more informal tasting and quaffing. 

D'Oliveiras wine cellarAs we approached the cellar of D’Oliveiras, we could smell alcohol down the street and were told that 2 to 5% is lost in the barrel to evaporation, known as the ‘angels share’. 

Lunch at Quinta do Furao, a hotel and vineyard in the picturesque north-eastern town of Santana, hosted a large al fresco lunch which started with a refreshing, ice-cold cocktail of Madeira, lime and lemonade served amongst the vines. It was similar to Pimms and is a must-try for next summer. Following an excellent buffet lunch and display of traditional dancing, we took off socks and shoes, climbed down into a concrete trough filled with grapes and felt them squidge between our toes.

Blandy's wine cellarBlandy’s Wine Lodge, Madeira’s most famous, oldest producer, had their own programme of activities including learning about barrel making and the opportunity to do a Madeira tasting! At a festival dinner, we were welcomed by a brass band and presented with a necklace made from boiled sweets. Over flowing pre-dinner drinks (Madeira of course, a fabulous pale-pink Atlantis rose, red and white wines, sangria and beer) we watched traditionally costumed dancers and men parading with animal skins full of wine over their shoulders demonstrating how wine would have been transported years ago. We declined another opportunity to tread grapes, but tried the unfiltered grape juice drawn off from a tap. It tasted ok, and we banished thoughts of the smelly feet that had turned the grape into juice. The street paradeAlthough a buffet dinner of salads, chicken, espetada (beef on a skewer) and pork soaked up the alcohol we were in fine fettle for the Academic Musical Group, the unexpected hit of the night. The ten-strong group of black-clad university students looked more like undertakers but their charisma, lively singing and music soon had everyone clapping and stomping their feet. Their dancing, involving lots of energetic jumping, high kicks and flag waving, which was slightly disconcerting for those gathered round them and only a couple of feet away. As they climaxed, there were many cries of mais um (one more).

As part of the programme of the Wine Festival, there are many other events which are organized, including a ‘European Folklore Week’ which is organised by the Boa Nova Ethnography and Folk Group and a variety of street entertainment including jazz, traditional music and philharmonic music. Plenty to see and do, including a film festival all about films which feature wine!

Treading grapesIf you too would like to squash grapes with your feet and sample the wine, Madeira’s annual wine festival takes place from 3 to 27 September 2020.

More information

Madeira All Year has all the information you need for a trip to this fabulous island.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Sunvil for holidays to Madeira.

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Helen Jackson

Traveller & writer

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