For this plentiful autumn salad fit to fill a cornucopia, we’re going to the Island of Madeira for the match.
Madeira is a fortified wine from the Madeira Islands of Portugal. Much like sherry, it comes in a variety of styles ranging from dry to sweet.
Madeira has an interesting history. As early as the 15th century the islands were a standard port of call for ships heading to the New World or East Indies. Wine was always a part of the cargo, and probably one of the only civilized things on those long sea voyages.
But it wasn’t until a case of the wine made in Madeira made its way back to a winemaker on the island that it was learned the high temperatures on the boats and the rough conditions caused the wine to spoil. That’s when winemakers started fortifying the wines.
To ensure the wine would last through the less than ideal conditions winemakers would heat the wine and fortify it, exposing it to oxygen — something you typically try to avoid at all costs when making wine. This process is called estufa.
This distinctive winemaking process continues, although now winemakers use modern technology instead of sailing around tropical climates. Because of the way the wine is made, it’s not a problem if you open a bottle and don’t finish it for three weeks or so.
When choosing a Madeira to pair with food — typically the dry wine is drunk as an aperitif, the sweeter wine as an after dinner night cap — we prefer something in the middle. For Ann Vogel’s maple-roasted butternut squash and apple salad and her autumn soup with kale, lentil and sausage, you’ll want to stay away from the super sweet wines, but also don’t find one that will be bone dry.
So what should you look for? Look for a Rainwater Madeira, which is a medium dry wine. The wine is pale colored and slightly sweet and nutty, with a hint of smoke on the nose and a clean crispness on the finish. Chill slightly before serving.
Blandy’s and Leacock’s make a Rainwater Madeira that sells for around $16. Remember, these wines will keep for several weeks after you open them, so if you double your soup recipe you’ll have something to sip alongside it.