Madeira has fallen out of fashion, but in the 18th and 19th centuries it had cachet. In fact, this sweet fortified wine from an island in the Atlantic was the one used in 1776 to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence, according to the "Oxford Companion to Wine." Today, most of us only know cooking Madeira, the cheap kind often thrown into sauces.
To get to know Madeira better, consider this 15-year-old bottling made from the Verdelho grape. Amber in color, with a scent of toasted hazelnuts, a taste of deep brown sugar and a flush of warmth in the finish, it's every bit as complex and compelling as a great vin santo from Tuscany. A decade and a half of aging has muted its sweetness and taken its flavors down a tone.
Savor a small glass after dinner with a cookie, and save a splash to make a sauce to see what a difference a good Madeira can make. (The same producer also makes a 10-year-old Verdelho.)
About $42. Available at Wally's, (310) 475-0606, and the Wine House, (310) 479-3731, in West L.A.; Pasadena Wine Merchants, (626) 396-9234; Hi-Time Wine Cellars, (949) 650-8463, in Costa Mesa; Wine Exchange, (714) 974-1454, in Orange; and Liquid Wine & Spirits in Chatsworth, (818) 709-5019. If you can't find it, have your local wine shop contact the distributor, Chambers & Chambers, (800) 999-1029.