Have Some Madeira, My Dear

madeira wine

Madeira used to be the most popular wine in America about 200 years ago. It also is the primary drink in one my favorite drinking songs of all time, “Have Some Madeira, My Dear”.

Madeira is a fortified wine available in a range of dry to sweet styles. It gets its name from the island of Madeira, a Portuguese archipelago located in the north Atlantic Ocean, just north of the Canary Islands. Madeira’s unique taste comes from repeatedly heating the wine. The heating creates a wine with flavors of roasted nuts, peach, orange peel, caramel and toffee.

There are two main types of Madeira that have several unique styles ranging in quality:

  • Blended Madeira: Inexpensive wines of average quality with a few exceptional aged styles.
  • Single-Varietal Madeira: The highest quality Madeira wines made primarily of 4 different varieties.

The infographic below – from Wine Folly – shows the different varieties and quality levels of Madeira.

have some madeira my dearNow that you are an expert on Madeira, I advise you to listen to the oh so entertaining ditty dubbed, “Have Some Madeira, My Dear”. “Have Some Madeira M’Dear”, also titled “Madeira, M’Dear?”, is a darkly comic song by Flanders and Swann.

The lyric tells of an elderly ne’er-do-well who “slyly inveigles” an attractive young girl of seventeen to his flat where he offers her a glass of – you guessed it – Madeira. The girl enthusiastically drains her glass, becoming slightly drunk in the process: “She lowered her standards by raising her glass/Her courage, her eyes—and his hopes”. Sensing victory, the man offers the young girl another glass of wine which she accepts, but before raising it to her lips she recalls her dying mother’s warning to avoid red wine. With a cry, the girl drops the glass and flees the apartment, the old roué’s pleas for her to remain echoing in her ears. The following morning, however, the young lady awakens in bed with a hangover and a beard tickling her ear.

madeira wine

I was first introduced to the song at an evening out for Opera sushi when I lived in New York. Yes, you read that right: Opera sushi. Every Wednesday and Saturday, Ido Sushi, a restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, opera singers from around the city gathered to entertain restaurant diners and guests with their song. “Have Some Madeira, My Dear” was a song frequently performed during my frequent visits to the restaurant. Sadly, the restaurant closed down after Hurricane Sandy, but the memories most assuredly live on.

My favorite version of this song is from Limelighters. Below is one of their live performances of the tune. Enjoy! (And hey, may as well watch it with a glass of Madeira…just be careful when it is offered to you by questionable older gentlemen.)

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Rachel Yeomans
Editor at Lit with a Twist
I'm a writer, reader and dreamer. I'm proud to be the editor and creator of Lit with a Twist. My co-editors, Ella and Fitzgerald, can't be trusted. Probably because they're cats.