When I write these pieces on specific varieties, I try to bring out some small or less known grapes that are somehow significant to my wine interest at that time. With eastern Europe raising it’s profile as a wine region (I guess Eastern Europe is many regions), Malvasia has been the grape in my glass often this spring. What sparked my grape-love towards Malvasia was probably some of the natural Italian sparkling wines produced with the ancestral method. There is a lot of interesting nature wines (including orange wines) carrying Malvasia on the market. The variety is ancient: incumbent to Greece and the Mediterranean, but widely spread out to Italy and Spain as well as overseas. It is also the main variety used for making one out of four different types of fortified Madeira.
The history of Malvasia goes way back to I don’t even know when. Something about ancient barbarians and a Greek city called Monemvasia. 12th century was loosely mentioned. Coming to my point, the Malvasia family has grown since and is relatively big and versatile. Malvasia Bianca is the main sub-variety and has many off springs of its own. There are also a number of confusingly named, yet unrelated, regional synonyms involving Malvasia, like Malvasia Corada which is actually Vital. To stir you up even more there is a red Malvasia called Malvasia Nera. The Malvasia used for the production of Madeira is called Malmsey. But I think the most important thing to know at this point is that in the 21st Century, Malvasia is produced in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece,Croatia, Slovenia and the United States.
White Malvasia tends to be a deeply colored, quite alcoholic wine with a “fat” texture. The wine oxidizes easily and has an intensely nutty character, sometimes with notes of orange peel and dried fruits. In sweeter wines it is often characterized as crisp with pear, honey and spices. Generally speaking it is not a wine for aging (exceptions can of course exist). Red Malvasia is often used for blending with other varieties. It is valued for its dark color and aromatic qualities.
What Malvasia wines would I then recommend?
- Il Mio Malvasia I.G.P Bio: An Italian organic sparkling made with the ancestral method. It is a bit funky (in a good way), so take a glass before you try the whole bottle. I tried this at one of my favorite restaurants, Chef & Sommelier.
- Coronica Malvasia 2011: Named on of the new best wines coming from Croatia. I have not tasted this baby but it is said that Moreno Coronica’s Malsavia Istarska is considered the benchmark of the region. A must try for me!
- Malvasia de Sitges: A lone vineyard in Penedes continues to produce Malvasia in Sitges. The area has since post phylloxeira returned mainly to its indigenous grapes, however Lafuente continues to make Malvasia de Sitges to conserve the heritage. The production is less than 5000 bottles a year, however, for a price of only 6€ you can pick up a bottle. Next time we are in Barcelona, I will take the train south to this beach city and buy me a piece of wine history.
After reading this or with experiences before, how excited are you about Malvasia?