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This is a white grape variety that probably originates from the region of Bucelas, near Lisboa, where it is traditionally grown under the name Esgana Cao (Dog Strangler), having been introduced in Madeira, where it was given the name Sercial.
The vineyards are located both on the north and south side of the island. At south, we find it at high elevations in Jardim da Serra, above Estreito de Câmara de Lobos, between 600m to 800m high, and at north, in the areas of Porto Moniz, São Vicente and Seixal, at lower altitudes, between 150 – 200m.
Sercial bunches are medium sized, thin skinned and the berries are prone to rot. It has a very late ripening and is resistant to oidium and mildium, being normally the last grape variety to be harvested. This slow maturation, the result of the terroir where it is grown, produces wines that rarely achieve more than 11% alcohol before fortification.
In Madeira Wine, due to its natural mouthwatering, tangy, crisp and racy acidity, balanced by its slight sweetness, Sercial is always used to produce dry wines, which are light bodied and exceptionally fresh, and present intense and vibrant aromas. Sercial begins its life pale in color, but over the course of time it deepens and darkens to amber.
It is not only an extraordinary aperitif or after-dinner wine (Colheita and Vintage) as it is the only Madeira Wine that can as well, if young, be enjoyed along a meal.
The 18th century was the "golden age" for Madeira with the wines popularity extending from the American colonies and Brazil in the New World to Great Britain, Russia and Northern Africa. The American colonies, in particular, were enthusiastic customers, consuming as much as a quarter of all wine produced on the island each year. The mid 19th century brought an end to the industry's prosperity, first with the 1852 outbreak of powdery mildew which severely reduce production over the next three years. Just as the industry was recovering through the use of the sulfur-based treatments, the phylloxera epidemic that had plagued France and other European wine regions reached the island, and devastated the entire Madeira vineyard.
By the end of the 19th century, most of the island's vineyards had been uprooted and many were converted to sugar cane production. By the turn of the 20th century, sales started to very slowly increase again, only to again collapse when the Russian Revolution and American Prohibition closed off two of Madeira's biggest markets.