Madrasa is a local red grape variety named after the village of Madrasa in the Shamakhi region of Azerbaijan, historically known as Shirvan region. Currently, Madrasa vines are grown in several villages in Shamakhi and Ismailli districts located between 700 and 800 meter of altitude, where small-scale producers generally dedicate part of their vineyard to this variety, mainly for their own consumption. Shamakhi and Ismailli are mostly mountainous areas, with the highest peak, Babadag, that rises to 3,629 meters. The landscape varies deeply, from steppe to foothill meadows and forests, such as the climate, highly influenced by the territory mountainous geography and close location to the Caspian Sea. Due to this peculiar location, these Azerbaijani wine regions can face different type of weather, from dry, to very cool to wet and therefore, the varieties that grow here must be very rustic and robust.
Madrasa grapes are medium sized with a slightly oval shape, and grow in conical clusters of medium density. The grapes go to bright pink to dark blue when fully ripen, with a thick waxy bloom. The skin is quite thick and tears easily, while the flesh is greenish and juicy with a harmonious taste.
The plant is characterized by weak leafiness and shoots going from light green when young to brown greyish when older. Madrasa variety is quite rustic, very resistant in drought condition, but vulnerable to frost. The most common training system is trellised, obtained through simple structures made up of poles and wires capable of supporting the plants. The type of pruning derives from the local tradition and takes place during the winter period, when the plant is in full dormancy, with the aim of keeping the plants in their original training form. During the productive season the soil management will only concern the elimination of spontaneous flora without invasive operations. Full ripeness occurs usually in late August and harvest may take place as late as September, depending on the type of wine being produced and on the specific cultivation area. The bunches collected manually are then carried to the warehouse, destemmed, pressed and left to macerate for about ten days in special wooden containers. Immediately after the must is slightly filtered for several times by decanting in order to avoid the passage of residues. It is then left to rest for at least two months and then it is ready for consumption. Madrasa wines can resist naturally for up to two years without alteration, if stored in a cool place in wood, glass or clay.
The blue-black grapes are sweet and very juicy, predominantly used in coupage with other varietals. From Madrasa are produced richly coloured red wines, but also citrusy rosés, with a good level of tannins. The aroma is rich in fruits flavors, such as raspberry and wild berries, with a long finish.
In the early 20th century, much of the population of Shamakhi was engaged in viticulture, and Madrasa was the regional center of winemaking. However, in 1985, as a result of the anti-alcohol campaign, more than 130 thousand hectares of vines were uprooted in Azerbaijan. Slow Food wants to support who have returned to this cultivation, or never left, working alongside the wine-makers to operate a reposition of the Madrasa wine in the market. Indeed, currently, small-scale producers are forced to sell the grapes to big industrial companies, which poorly pay the raw material. To achieve the objective, producers have decided to promote sustainable techniques both in cultivation and winemaking, in order to meet the needs of a modern consumer, while protecting the environment. Therefore, the use of synthetic chemicals in the field is not allowed, and no industrial yeasts are used in the fermentation.