Sercial is an indigenous Portuguese white wine grape variety used for the most light weighted yet acerbically acidic style of madeira. Nevertheless, a late ripening grape variety, it is less common on Madeira than it once was. This is due to its fragility and the scourge of phylloxera which almost wiped out the island's vineyards and thus, its rich wine heritage, during the late 1800's.
To help rescue Madeira's wine industry, plantings of American hybrids such as Cunningham and Jacquet were introduced together with the ubiquitous yet substantially less noble Tinta Negra Mole (now the engine-room grape variety of Madeira). Yet plantings of Sercial, together with other 'noble' varieties Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey, are again on the increase as higher quality is sought.
However wine quality remains threatened by fungal diseases, forever prevalent in the wet and humid climate of Madeira. The island's mountains rise to 1,850 metres, attracting what often appears to the visitor as perpetual cloud, mist and drizzle. Yet it is on the highest feasible vineyard sites, at around 800 metres, that Sercial ripens; albeit with some difficulty. This lends a tensile rivet of acidity and nerve to its base wines. It is no wonder that on the Portuguese mainland Sercial is also known as Esgagna Cão, meaning 'dog strangler.'
Sercial's base wines are usually around 10 degrees of alcohol. They are then fortified with a spirit of 95 per cent alcohol, before extended ageing in large format cask to give searingly fresh madeiras of a palpable dryness and almond-like complexity.