Verdelho is a sweet white variety that originates around
Portugal and is now grown all around the world.
The earliest recorded planting of Verdelho is from Portugal
in the 15th century. It was one of the most widely planted
varieties on the island of Madeira* till the 20th century.
Plantings began to diminish (due to Phylloxera and later
market driven trends) until regional authorities became concerned
they were losing a national treasure and took steps to
revive the 'noble variety'. The 1970's saw Verdelho dwindle
in its homeland and it was only the steps of dedicated
wineries and individuals who brought it back from extinction.
The vines used are almost all grafts of the old vines
onto American rootstocks. Prior to Phylloxera, Madeira had
a great many grape vine varieties, but today there are
mainly four: Malmsey, Sercial, Verdelho and Bual.
Verdelho first appears in Australia around 1820. John Macarthur
(1767-1834), the great pioneer and publicist of the
wool industry, with his sons James (1798-1867) and William
(1800-1882) had toured France, Switzerland and northern
Italy in 1815-16 with the express purpose of studying
viticulture and collecting grape vines. They returned to Australia
in 1817 ahead of their collection and in the 1820s established
vineyards at Camden Park and near Penrith. Early
plantings were unsuccessful and the Macarthur brothers
nearly gave up, but when it became evident that much of
their imported collection was spurious and that grape varieties
and not soil types were the cause of failure they began
to make progress. Varieties grown include Pineau Gris,
Frontignac, Gouais, Verdelho, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling,
Grenache and Mataro. By the late 1820s from Verdelho
and two varieties of Muscat they began to make a
small quantity of good wine. 1824 was the first vintage at
In 1824 Dr William Redfern (1774-1833) brought vinedressers
and Verdelho cuttings from Madeira for his Campbell
1825 saw the Australian Agricultural Company import
vines from the Horticultural Society's Gardens at Chiswick,
England, including the Verdelho.
In 1912, Penfold's Wines purchases 'Minchinbury'. Over the
subsequent years, Penfold's expands the cellars to store in
excess of 1.25 million bottles, as well as expanding the
vineyards to over 400 acres. Varieties grown include Verdelho,
Riesling, Cabernet Riesling, Pinot Noir, Hermitage,
Traminer and Pinot Blanc.
Verdelho is also known as Verdello or Breval in Italy and
Gouveio in parts of Portugal.
By contrast, in 2001 Australia picked just over 10,000 tonnes
Verdelho is a very sweet, hard, elliptic or oblong, greenish-
yellowish fruit that grows in small to medium-sized
(15-22 cm) bunches which are generally laterally compressed
and dense and ripen to a golden hue.
The Verdelho vine has a high and very vigorous stem
with brownish or reddish-brownish shoots and short internodes.
The leaves are of moderate size, round, wavy, with
some hair above and hairy beneath but with indumentum
(thick, woolly or hairy covering) not very dense and irregularly
distributed, sometimes being almost absent on
the whole leaf or part of it. It is a high yielding, early ripening
Verdelho is mainly used to produce medium-sweet white
wines, but that's not all. Modern winemaking techniques
such as controlled pellicular macerations or bâtonnage
(the skins bubble together for 24 hours before the pressing)
have unlocked some surprising characters from this
grape. The resulting wines are aromatic, herbaceous revealing
laurel leaf and fresh hay and citrus. They have a
full middle palate and with good oak treatment, develop
nutty characteristics normally only found in rich Chardonnays.
You can't help talking about Madeira wines when talking
about Verdelho. There are four basic types of Madeira
with each named after the grape from which it's made.
- Sercial that was once thought to be the Riesling
grape and makes the lightest and driest Madeira
- Verdelho makes a tangy medium-sweet wine,
with somewhat more body
Bual gives a definitely sweet style with baked,
- Malmsey offers a lusciously rich, sweet, and
*The island of Madeira is approximately 50 by 20 kilometres
(30 by 12 miles) in size and is situated in the Atlantic
600 kilometres (370 miles) from the Moroccan
coast at a latitude of 33 degrees. The rainfall on the island
is heavy because of its position in the Atlantic and its
mountainous geography. Because of its latitudinal position,
summers are hot and winters very warm. Land is at a
premium, and vineyards are located on small terraces of
the steep cliffs, rising from the water's edge to some 914
metres (3 000 ft) above sea level in places. The best
grapes come from vines grown on the southern slopes of
the island that receive the most sunshine
* Reproduced with permission from Peter Svans at The Gurdies Winery