Madeira Wine Substitute
Cooking Tips

Madeira Wine Substitute


I discovered some Madeira wine substitute options when I was making a fabulous recipe for Chicken Breasts Stuffed With a Mushroom Duxelle.  Oooh-la-laaa, it was fan-ceee!  Try it out sometime when you are in the mood for an elegant, impressive dinner. Anyway, I thought I’d have to put my menu plan on hold because I didn’t have Madeira wine.  I did some quick research to determine if I had something else in my liquor cabinet that was an acceptable Madeira Wine substitute, and sure enough, I did.  There are actually several options for Madeira wine substitutes, and chances are, you’ve got at least one on hand right now.  In my case,  I had more than one of the recommended substitutes for Madeira wine in the house, so I picked my favorite and the dinner plan was back on.

Substitute for Madeira Wine: 

  • port (especially a dry port)
  • Marsala
  • dry vermouth
  • sherry (especially a dry sherry)
  • stock (Either beef or chicken stock works well in meat-based sauces.)

Source: Cooks Thesaraus

More About Madeira Wine

Here are some interesting little factoids about Madeira wine:

  • Madiera was poured during Thomas Jefferson’s toast at the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776,
  • Madiera wine was served at the inauguration of George Washington
  • Madeira wine was once used to perfume ladies’ handkerchieves
  • Madeiria used to be given to military personnel as a gesture of appreciation for service to their country
  • Madeira wine was nicknamed the “milk of the old” because it was frequently recommended for sick and overworked peopleMadeira has had a fundamental part of wine history, and yet today the typical American knows nothing about Madeira wine. And of those that do, Madeira wine is generally thought of as a difficult-to-procure ingredient for an obscure French sauce first documented by Escoffier and championed by Julia Child.  Which is why you probably found youfself on this page in the first place, seeking a Madeira wine substitute!

What is Madeira Wine?

Madeira is a Portuguese fortified wine, aged under heat, and produced in the Madeira islands just off the northwestern coast of Morocco (Africa), from approximately 5 distinct grapes. It’s produced and sold as either Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet or Sweet, all of which are marked by their high levels of acidity. Regardless of its sweetness level, Madeira wine is often consumed on its own as an aperitif as well as commonly consumed with dessert. Cheaper cooking versions of Madeira wine are often flavored with salt and pepper for use in cooking, but these are not fit for consumption as a beverage.

On 500 hectares of volcanic soil, vines teeter precariously on death-defying slopes that have been made into terraces.  The grapes are harvested solely by hand. To irrigate, water was historically captured from the highest parts of the island (around 1800m) and channeled through 2150 km of man-made canals, many of which date back to the 16th century! If you’re looking for ingenuity at its finest, this is it!

Will you like Madeira wine? The answer is, YES! Think rich, earthy flavors of dried fruits, honey, coffee, molasses and spices (curry, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc). Then toss in fresh peach and red fruit every now and again, and you have an ever evolving wine, layered with complex flavors. These wines are special, other-worldly and unpredictable. Most importantly, they’re addictive! Like Sherry, once you dive in, it’s impossible to curb your curiosity and desire for more.

Where to find Madeira?

This is the challenging part (which is probably why you are here, looking for options for a Madeira wine substitute…), but less so every day as IVBAM (Madeira Wine, Embroidery and Handicraft Institute) is working diligently to try and get Madeira available internationally. To date, around 80% of Madeira wine is exported off the island – sort of a no brainer if you consider the population is equivalent to Anchorage, Alaska. From this, 81% is sold in Europe, mainly to France (for that famous sauce!), Portugal, England and Germany. Outside Europe, Japan and America are the largest consumers.

The great part about Madeira is that storage is not an issue. Hence if you find it, anywhere, it’s most likely in good condition. That said, tasting Madeira on the island itself ups the game to a whole new level, because Madeira island is one of the most beautiful places you’ll ever visit. Paired with a skewer of freshly grilled meat while overlooking the volcanic islands terraced landscape is surreal, if not life altering.

But of course, if  you can’t find Madeira at your local wine shop, or just don’t happen to have any in the house when you need it in a pinch, go ahead and use a Madeira wine substitute listed at the top of this page. But keep in mind that a substitute for Madeira wine is always just that – a substitute.



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One Comment

  • Marsha Ramsdell

    Dear Clever Cook,
    I am working on a Julia Child recipe that calls for Madeira wine, so I made a search and your site came up. I read your post about Madeira wine and it was really helpful. Your cover photo is very uplifting and inviting. That plus the snow, the benches and the trees looks like Central Park. I am so glad to find your site, I thoroughly enjoyed it and expect to be back soon.

    Marsha R.
    Sylvania, OH

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