Madeira is both a type of fortified wine and a subtropical island off the coast of North Africa where Madeira is made. Madeira starts out as a white wine, and after being heated for a minimum of three months in estufas (heating rooms), it takes on an amber color and a uniquely tangy, burnt-caramel flavor. Why is it heated? Well, back in the 17th century, people discovered that wine made in Madeira actually improved as it sat in the sweltering cargo holds of ships that crossed the equator. Ever since, wine from Madeira has been heated in tanks at more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit to allow the sugars to caramelize. The result is an indestructible high-alcohol wine that will last well beyond your lifetime. Standard blends of Madeira are made mainly from the local grape varietal Tinta Negra Mole, whereas higher quality "reserve" and "vintage" Madeiras tend to be made from one of the four noble grapes traditionally used to make Madeiras—Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malmsey (listed in ascending order of sweetness). All four of these noble grapes were destroyed by phylloxera at the end of the 19th century and are slowly being replanted on the island at considerable expense. Low-grade Madeira is mostly used for cooking, but the good stuff—pre-phylloxera vintages dating from 1920 back to 1795—is prized by collectors and fetches up to $300 a bottle. FYI, although the island of Madeira is a province of Portugal, the British have run its wine trade for centuries.