Unforgettable Thanksgiving with Madeira Gravy

Sometimes, it seems, that until we are confronted with a recipe, we often forget the other fortified wine: Madeira. The wine hearkens from the Portuguese Madeira Islands. Madeira didn’t come onto my wine radar until over a decade ago when some regular guests would bring in their famous Madeira gravy recipe for Thanksgiving. I conducted some research into this other fortified wine. I found that it’s fortified with brandy just like Porto and Sherry, but in a different style that led to a famous wine term “maderized” for wines that smell or taste “heated” or oxidized.


Heating is the key to the difference in Madeira. From the Islands of Madeira, a port of call on the journey to the East Indies, Madeira wines range from dry to sweet. To prevent wine from spoiling on these long sea voyages, neutral grape spirits were added, but the hot journey and constant motion transformed the flavor of the wine. This was discovered when an unsold shipment of wine returned to the islands after a round trip. Now Madeira is noted for its unique process, which involves heating the wine to 140º F for an extended period of time and deliberately exposing it to oxidization. Because of this special process, Madeira is a robust wine that can be long-lived after opening.

Since sending their wines on long journeys was not cost-effective, they came up with a methodology to create those flavors using hot rooms called estufas. The 18th Century was the “Golden Age” of Madeira, popular throughout the New World to Great Britain, Russia and North Africa. Madeira was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson and was used to toast the Declaration of Independence. The styles of Madeira vary based on the grapes sourced from Sercial, to Verdejho, to Bual and Malmsey.


In the American colonies, a particular style called “Rainwater” was the most popular and still is to this day. It is similar to the milder Verdelho, but usually made with the Tinta Negra Mole varietal. Two theories for the name persist. The first referred to the steep hillside vineyards that could not be irrigated and so depended on rainwater for survival. The second maintains that a shipment destined for the American colonies was accidentally diluted by rainwater while it sat on the docks in Savannah, Georgia. Rather than dump the wines, the merchants tried to pass it off as a “new style” of Madeira and were surprised at its popularity among the Americans.

Justino’s makes an affordable Rainwater Madeira for $18, but you only need one cup for my gravy recipe, so you can enjoy the rest while finishing preparation for your meal or as aperitif before the meal, or even as a digestif after. Its clear amber color shifts to green apple at the rim. I get classic Madeira on the nose, smelling maderized, of noticeable heat with nutty overtones and dried fruit undertones. As it opens up I smell smoky caramel and hot chocolate, tartly sweet on the palate yet light on the tongue. Not as viscous as heavier-styled Madeiras, elegant yet complex. Finishes with yeasty sherry flavors mingled with boozy prunes yet smooth and weightless. Justino’s Rainwater is the perfect introductory Madeira!

Madeira Gravy

2 ½ cups Giblet stock (pan juices and dripping from the turkey)

1 cup Rainwater Madeira wine

¼ cup All-purpose flour

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Pour pan juices into a large measuring cup; let stand 5 min; skim off the fat. Scoop off ¼ cup of the risen fat and put in large saucepan. Remove the rest of the fat in the remaining juices. (Add enough stock to make 3 cups and supplement with extra broth if needed). Set original roasting pan over medium heat and add Madeira, scraping up the browned bits. Increase to medium high and bring to a boil, then simmer 5 min. Strain this into your measuring cup of juices/stock; should have about 4 cups total. Heat saucepan with turkey fat over medium high heat and whisk in the flour, when blonde (about 2 min.) whisk in the stock/Madeira mixture until smooth. Simmer gently for 5 min.; season to taste. Reduce heat and keep warm before serving.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Daniel Eddy, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits wine & spirits supervisor

Follow me on Twitter @abcwineDanE

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