The Islands: Açores & Madeira
The Portuguese islands of Açores and Madeira have extraordinary topography and complex terroirs. This enables them to produce some of the most unique wines of Portugal. The Açores are best known for white wines which are grown in volcanic soil and have an intensely mineral profile. Fans of Açorean wine swear they can taste the ancient volcanic activity in the wine; saline, mineral, and maybe even a touch smokey. Açorean wines are made in small quantities, in vineyards that are some of the hardest to work in the world. These wines can be both hard to find and not cheap if you are looking for the good stuff! There are three appellations of origin; Graçiosa, Biscoitos (on Terceira Island), and Pico. The predominant grape varieties are Arinto, Boal, Fernão Pires, Terrantez, and Verdelho. Açores also produces very small quantities of a highly sought after dessert wine similar in style to Madeira.
Madeira is best known for the world-famous dessert wines of the same name. These dessert wines come in multiple types, ages, varieties, and combinations of the above. It is a complex story of wine, with a patrimony going back centuries. The four noble varieties are Sercial, Verdelho, Boal, and Malvasia, which are all white. They are vinified in order to produce different degrees of sweetness; dry, half dry, half sweet, and sweet, respectively. The most planted grape on the island is Tinta Negra, a chameleon of a red grape, which can be used to make all four styles. Dry wines are also produced in Madeira, but they are fairly hard to come by off-island.