Cossart Gordon & Co. was established in 1745 and is the oldest company in the Madeira Wine trade. Francis Newton, a young Scot sailed from Gravesend in Britain and arrived in Madeira on September 12th 1745, founding the company. He was joined by his younger brother Thomas from 1758 to 1763 and then by another Scot, Thomas Gordon of Balmaghie also in 1758. Thomas Murdoch joined the firm in 1791 that came to be called Newton, Gordon, Murdoch & Co. 

By 1850 the firm was said to be shipping "half the growth of the island" and Newton's contacts in America through his brother Andrew (who left Scotland for Virginia) were proving to be highly successful and the company acquired an unequalled reputation as suppliers of fine Madeiras. The colonies in North America were at the time the largest and most discerning market, so much so in fact that the best production was widely known as "America Madeira". Madeira played such an important part in the American life that it was used to toast the Declaration of Independence on July 4th 1776.

In 1989, the Symington family, renowned fourth generation Port producers, took a majority shareholding in what had then become the Madeira Wine Company, which also owns Blandy’s, Leacock’s and Miles. Over the last 15 years, the Symingtons have used their winemaking expertise and dedication to reinvest in the vineyards and winery and have consequently created a worldwide distribution network to revitalize the Madeira trade.

COUNTRY Portugal
REGION Madeira
PROPRIETORS The Symington family
WINEMAKER Charles Symington

The island of Madeira, of volcanic origin, was discovered in 1419 by the Portuguese Captain, João Gonçalves Zarco, and is an archipelago composed of two inhabited islands – Madeira and Porto Santo – and two small uninhabited islets, the Desertas and the Selvagens. Madeira’s location in the Atlantic made it an important strategic port of call which led to the rapid expansion of the island’s wine, especially in countries such as the United States of America. It was so popular in the USA that in the 18th century, Madeira wine is reported to have represented over 75% of all wine imported into this market.

Madeira is rich and diverse in terroirs. As a volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the vineyards are exposed to the ocean breeze and the grapes from vineyards planted at lower levels can show saline and iodine notes. The soils are acidic, rich in mineral, iron and phosphor, and poor in potassium, which all contribute to the trademark acidity of the wine. In fact, the acidity is one of the most remarkable assets of the wines, allowing this unique wine to keep fresh even after having been bottled for many years. Irrigation is provided by an ancient system of canals called “levadas” that brings water from the mountains down to the agricultural plots, until the ocean. 

grape varieties distribution map

An Accidental Wine 

The heating of the wine during the ageing process is unique. Its origins came about during the era of discoveries in the 15th and 16th centuries when the sailing ships passed by the island to pick up fresh water and supplies, in the form of wine in barrels which were loaded onboard the visiting ships to provide much needed refreshments to the sailors, and to also act as ballast. Legend has it that on one particular round trip to India, the barrels of wine were returned to the producer on the island who discovered that the wine had improved considerably, which was attributed to the heating of the wine by the high tropical temperatures, as the ship had crossed the equator 4 times. For many years, the practice of shipping wines on a round trip became normal, and gave birth to the “vinho da roda” (round trip wines).

With time, the practice of shipping barrels on a round trip became costly, and following the introduction of steam ships, the journey became much faster, and producers started using the “canteiro system”.

Ageing in Canteiro

The word "canteiro" derives from the name of the traditional supporting beams on which the oak casks are placed. This unique process consists in the ageing of the wines in casks for a minimum period of 4 years stored under the rafters of warm attics, exposed to the natural warmth of the sun that gently heats the wine.

Wines produced in the "canteiro" system are stored in casks by the variety name and vintage year, and under the ancient rafters of the lodge. The casks are gently warmed by the natural occurring heat of the sub-tropical climate, and the wines acquire a unique and concentrated character, resulting from the “angel share”, which is the name given to the reduction that the wines undergo during their ageing. The casks are never 100% full, which allows the wine to slowly oxidize and to transform the primary aromas into tertiary aromas or the classical “Madeira Bouquet” of spices, roasted nuts, dried fruits smoke, amongst many others.

After a few years on the highest and warmest level, the wines are moved down to successively lower floors and cooler levels. Years pass and eventually the wines reach the ground floor to finish ageing. This ancestral and totally natural process is used in all the premium wines.