Whisky in Madeira wine casks
1. The Origin
The Madeira wine comes from the Madeira islands located in the Atlantic ocean in front of the African continent. The wine itself is a fortified Portuguese wine. It dates back to the 15th century. Madeira is thought to be one of the key players in the process of cask maturation. This is due to its remote location, perfect as a port for ships sailing to the colonies. Many of the big "pipe" casks were loaded and shipped to the American continent. The people producing the fortified wine soon found out, that the heat and the climate had a huge effect on the wine inside the cask. This had a huge impact on the production method used today.
2. Production and post treatment
The crushed and pressed wine grapes are often fermented in their own skin. The fermenting process in all terms is not regulated so the industry can use stainless steel tanks or the traditional wooden tanks.
The Malvasia grape is almost exclusively produced for the production of Madeira wine. It is a very sweet grape that is associated with the distinctive taste.
The Estufagem cask maturation (not a typo)
This process is what makes the Madeira wine unique. It is a special heat and moisture treatment that is meant to replicate the journey of the Madeira casks on the ships of the 15th century. The maturation periods and storing facilities range from stainless steel tanks to oak casks and legislation dictates that the wine has to be stored for at least 90 days at 55°C. This cooking process lets the wine undergo many reductive and oxidative stages. This stage adds a lot to the colouring of the Madeira. At the end of this maturation the alcohol levels are adjusted by adding grape spirit.
3. Effect on the taste
Whiskies matured in Madeira casks are usually taking up the spiciness and fruitiness of the Madeira wine left inside the saves. Also the effect on the taste of the whisky is strongly influenced by the type of the Madeira wine. But due to the Estufagem process you always end up with some spiciness and sweetness, even if the Madeira is dry.
4. Effect on the colour
Due to the Estufagem process all of the Madeira fortified wines have a dark colour. This results in a darkening of the whisky matured these casks. Some of the Madeira wines have a red colour and give the whisky a red touch.
5. Whisky Examples
It was matured in traditional oak casks like all the other Balvenie. Then it was finished in selected Madeira wine casks. This leads to a 17 year old fruity and sweet whisky.
A limited edition Ballechin whisky from the Edradour distillery. It is a peated whisky with a spicy and fruity tone.
A very smoky, fruity and spicy whisky. It was matured for 13 years