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May 16, 2007 05:47 PM

Cooking with Port vs. Madeira

In looking at my weekly email from the Splendid Table radio show (I love NPR! :)), I saw a recipe for Madeira-Glazed Portobello Steak Sandwiches.

Obviously a major component of the recipe is madeira - something I don't have on hand at the moment. However, I do have a decent port. Being that I'm not voiced in the similarities and differences between the two, I'd like to hear from other Chowhounders! I realize these are both fortified Portuguese wines...but that's about all I know as far as similarities and differences.

Specifically, can you tell me if I would be missing anything in color, taste, or consistency if I substitute port for madeira?

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  1. Do you have a Tawny or Ruby Port on hand? Tawny would be fine, not as much citrus a Madeira but a good stand in as is is also nutty but Ruby port is so different that it would indeed change the dish.

    1. When one is cooking, Madeira is the "go-to," as it has already been "cooked." That is part of the process of Madeira. Port, does get a bit of "Douro-Bake," but to a much smaller degree, than does Madiera. When a sweet, or fortified wine is called for in a recipe, unless there is a very compelling reason to not do so, Madeira should be the first choice. The heat will have far less effect on the flavor profile, than with almost every other wine.

      There are some similarities, as Bubbles4me, points out, between some Tawny Ports, and Madeira, and both are Portugese fortified wines, but there is 800 miles between the growing areas. Madeira is that much closer to the Equator. The processes for the production, and the grape varietals differ in many, many ways.

      Also, as Bubbles4me points out, there is a lemony aspect to many Madeiras, that will be lacking in most Ports - Cockburn's 20 Year Tawny is the only real exception that comes to my mind. Still, I'd opt for Maderia, without hesitation.


      6 Replies
      1. re: Bill Hunt

        Which type of Madeira would you use in cooking, the drier or the sweeter, or does it depend on what you are preparing? I made a Julia Child Madeira sauce for beef tenderloin. I don't think Julia specified, so I used a Bual. The sauce was okay, but I'd like your thoughts on this.

        1. re: Summerfield

          I've used a pretty broad spectrum, with the exclusion of the "Rainwater," as I am not a big fan of that ilk. I usually go for what is around the house, so it is more likely to be a Malmsey, or Bual. If I'm looking for a bit more tang, than a sweeter element, I'll opt for a drier varietal (it's nice that with the EU, the Madeira varietals of yore, are being used/planted again). The tone of the recipe dictates the choice of wine that I cook with.


          1. re: Bill Hunt

            Which type of Madeira would you recommend for Chicken with morels? I'm thinking of using Ina Gartnen's "Barefoot in Paris" recipe but there is no guidance about which type of Madeira to use.

            1. re: KitchenVoodoo

              Actually, and not THAT long ago, we did morels (cannot recall if chicken was in the dish, or something else - sorry), and both reconstituted the morels with The Rare Wine Company's Boston Bual Special Reserve. It was great!

              Will ask if my wife recalls more details of the total dish, when she comes back to Phoenix.

              Good luck, and enjoy,


              1. re: Bill Hunt

                My go- to is Blandy's 10 year Malmsley Madeira - fairly utilitarian. I don't think I have ever poured port into a pan.

                1. re: Veggo

                  While I have poured Port, Maderia has been my # 1 go-to cooking wine.


        1. Port is a different wine, than is Madeira. Both have similarities, but they are different.

          In general, when much heat is to be added, Madeira is a better choice, because it has already been "heat treated." There is usually a wonderful "sour" apsect to most good Madeiras. Some Tawny Ports exhibit this, as well. I would say that it is an element of the oak, which I often find slightly "sour."

          Both work well for reductions, but if that is not part of the recipe, I'd say you should pick up a bottle of 5 year Malmsey and go for it. Until you get to the really old Madeiras, the price is really OK.

          I love 'em both, but do not freely substitute them in recipes.


          1. Seems to me everyone assumed that SWEET Madeira was called for! I would guess not.

            There are not too many taste similarities between any Port I've ever had and Sercial Madeira, which is what I most often use in cooking!

            7 Replies
            1. re: ChefJune

              Please educate me on this subject. The varietal or "noble" madeiras appear to be no less than Euro 30-35/bottle for the cheapest 5 year Sercials, Verdelhos, etc. which are the dry types Ms.Kamman appeared to recommend, for stocks and brown sauces, at least.

              The cheaper Rainwater styles appear to be largely from Tinta Negra grape, although still dear for cooking where all the volatiles are being cooked off!

              That being the case, are there any US madeira-type wines that will be "good enough" for cooking? Or other madeira-type wines also "good enough" to do the job, without burning a hole in one's pocket? I should not like to experiment with a $34-40 bottle of Madeira!!

              Often, a reasonable job can be performed by lesser wines for everyday cooking, e.g. California " tawny port" (!!!). What might work for "madeira"? Thank you in advance.

              1. re: GTM

                Madeiras are an interesting, and changing subject.

                Once, the terms "Bual," "Malmsey," "Sercials," etc., reflected the grape varietal, from which they were made. Then, things changed, and those terms were loosely applied, like a GR QmP Riesling, almost a "style," rather than the grape used, to perceived level of ripeness, and taste. There is a move to go back to the original use of such terms, to indicate the actual grape varietal. Not exactly sure how that is going, but I applaud the attempt.

                I am less a fan of the "Rainwater" Maderias, but that is just me. I find others to be better, even when cooking.

                Now, I would never use one of my 1860 Malmseys in any dish. Those are for later in the evening - when I would also consider Ports.


                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  Thanks. I was looking through a very interesting website, Mad After Madeira: have you come across it? It takes you through each of the 7 major producers and their product range, which i very helpful.

                  I find using expensive drinking wines for cooking to be "cruel" in my personal judgment: most of the precious flavor compounds that have been so painstakingly developed by the vintner's art and toil are among the first to leave the pan at even a simmer, let alone a reduction! Why massacre such precious fluids at the altar of fire?

                  I would like to learn of Madeira-style wines from CA, TX, and other places that do the "job" of cooking or making stock adequately, and without extravagance. Thanks.

                  1. re: GTM

                    Some good information is here already on the wine board.

                    First, this thread with a good overview by Jason/zin1953.

                    Jason makes the point -- which I'll emphasize -- that Madeira comes from Madeira, and it's difficult to make anything resembling it outside of Madeira. First, the unusual grapes of Madeira are not often grown in the US. Second, Madeira producers employ a process of successive controlled oxidations that create a specific flavor. The techniques and expertise that go into that process are simply not found in this country.

                    In this same thread, Chef June recommends Sercial for cooking, about $24,

                    Then, here is this thread, with more specific recommendations. I like the Henriques & Henriques very much, the Bual or Malmsey. Voluptuous. A great experience, but it's for sipping and evenings, not cooking.

                    The choice of Madeira is dependent upon the recipe in which it's used, whether it's savory or sweet.

                    Quite a few folks confuse Madeira with Marsala, but they are very different things.

                    You mentioned Kamman, and I'm presuming you meant Madeline Kamman, who taught cooking a long time here in the Napa Valley. Kamman says you can substitute fino sherry for Madeira. The recipe will not be exactly the same, but perhaps close enough, and I understand your not wanting to spend precious dollars on an alcohol you may not use much.

                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      As you note, I often see the same confusion, between Maderia, and Masala, and, as you state, they are totally different wines, from different grapes, and different Regions. They are NOT the same.


                    2. re: GTM

                      While I do use "better wines," for cooking, I tend to agree with you. Cooking IS different, than drinking.

                      Still, and depending on the recipe, I have been known to throw in some "real drinking wines," but it is for the dish.

                      In CA and TX, I cannot help you, but will bet that others can.

                      Good luck,


                      1. re: GTM

                        NO ONE has suggested that you open up a bottle of 1963 Taylor Fladgate to cook with, and a second 1963 Taylor Fladgate to drink -- or even a 2005 Taylor Fladgate to cook with and a 1963 Taylor Fladgate to drink . . .

                        NO ONE is suggesting opening an 1853 Barbeito Bual for cooking . . .

                        The entire point about "don't cook with a wine you wouldn't drink" is a) don't use crap labeled "cooking wine"; b) use the same/similar TYPE of wine you're drinking to cook with . . . i.e.: if you're serving Chardonnay, cook with Chardonnay. It's not, if you're serving Montrachet, cook with Montrachet.

                        Now, most of the time, when cooking with Madeira, Marsala or Port, you aren't serving a Madeira, Marsala, or Port. But I would never cook with a domestic (American) wine with one of those names on the label. I would rather buy an INEXPENSIVE Ruby Porto (or Madeira) from, say, Sandeman, Dow's, or Warre's (or Blandy's, Leacock, H&H) for cooking than a bottle of Gallo . . . the FLAVORS are different, and to me, that matters.

                        But I'm cooking at home. And I can certainly understand -- in a casual restaurant environment (as opposed to "fine dining") having that 4.0L jug of Gallo "Port" in the restaurant kitchen.