Malvasia: A Journey Through Time and Terroirs
Malvasia, an ancient family of white wine grapes with a rich history, has left its indelible mark on the Mediterranean viticultural landscape. This diverse family, capable of producing wines in various styles, hails from regions as varied as Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Croatia, Slovenia, and the United States.
Believed to have Greek origins, the Malvasia family’s name is derived from the coastal Greek town of Monemvasia, showcasing its deep-rooted connection to the region. With over 2000 years of commercial significance, Malvasia has played a pivotal role in the Mediterranean’s winemaking heritage.
In the world of wine, Malvasia is synonymous with diverse expressions. One of the most iconic varieties, Malmsey, thrives on the Portuguese island of Madeira. Malmsey wines, heated and oxidized after fermentation, exhibit dark hues and rich, nutty flavors, making them unique and coveted.
The Iberian Peninsula, especially Portugal and Spain, is another hotspot for Malvasia. In Douro, Portugal, various sub-varieties contribute to White Port production, while in Spain, Malvasia blends with Viura in Rioja and Navarra, adding body weight and texture.
Italy, a viticultural mosaic, embraces Malvasia throughout its regions. In the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia DOCs of Collio and Isonzo, dry Malvasia wines showcase light stonefruit flavors and a pronounced floral bouquet. Southern Italy leverages semi-dried Malvasia grapes for passito wines, emphasizing the family’s natural sweetness.
Islands such as Lipari, the Canary Islands, and the Aegean group play host to distinctive Malvasia wines. Unfortunately, Lipari’s sweet Malvasia wines are now rare due to the lingering effects of phylloxera.
The story of Malvasia also includes a complex family tree. Malvasia Bianca, the main sub-variety, has numerous offspring. Italy, notorious for its confusing nomenclature, features Malvasia varieties like Malvasia Corada (Vital), Malvasia Rei (Palomino), and Malvasia da Trincheira (Folgasa), each with its unique characteristics.
In Croatia, Malvasia Istriana stands out as a distinct indigenous variety. Further complexities arise with Malvasia di Lazio, a spontaneous crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Schiava Grossa, often showing apricot aromas.
Despite its ancient lineage, Malvasia continues to evolve, adapting to diverse terroirs and winemaking traditions. From the sun-soaked vineyards of the Mediterranean to the historic cellars of Madeira, Malvasia’s journey through time is a testament to its enduring legacy.