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Malvasia, An Aromatic Grape Used For Producing Red And White Wines

Malvasia is a group of wine grape varieties grown in the Mediterranean region and the island of Madeira. Malvasia wines are produced in Italy (including Lombardia, Sicily, Lipari, and Sardinia). 

As the legend goes, the name Malvasia is attributed to an ancient Christian legend still retold on the Lipari Islands in Sicily. It refers to the period of the Arab domination of Sicily.


According to the tale, a young local farmer wanted to take an amphora of Moscato wine to his father and the priest. Along the road, he met the tyrannical Arab governor of the island, who demanded to see what he had under his cloak. The farmer replied that he was only carrying a jug of mallow juice and prayed to God to transform it into mallow juice, saying “malva sia” (let it be mallow juice), and it became mallow juice, to the disgust of the governor who had insisted on tasting the contents of the jug.

There are of course many different claims to the name of the grape, but this legend can be the most often repeated one depending on the Italian region you are in. Because, in modern Italy, there are at least 10 distinctive forms of Malvasia, planted all over the country, and different regions have their own distinct versions. Another firmly held belief is that the name "Malvasia" is thought to derive from Monemvasia, a Venetian fortress on the coast of Laconia, known in Italian as "Malvasia"; this port would have acted as a trading centre for wine produced in the eastern Peloponnese and perhaps in some of the Cyclades.

Malvasia wines have been around for centuries and Italian winemakers have mastered the best ways to produce them.

Italian Malvasia regional varieties are:

Malvasia Istriana

In the Friuli-Venezia Giulia wine region, Malvasia is known as Malvasia Istriana and used to make varietal wines in the Collio DOC and Isonzo DOC. Malvasia Istrian is also found in the Colli Piacentini region of Emilia where it is used to make sparkling wine known locally as "champagnino" or "little champagne".

Malvasia di Grottaferrata, Malvasia di Bosa, Malvasia di Planurgia

In the 19th century and early 20th century, sweet passito style dessert wines made from the Malvasia grape were held in high esteem and considered among Italy's finest wines. Today only a few dedicated producers are still making these Malvasia dessert wines from local varieties including the Malvasia di Grottaferrata in Lazio, Malvasia di Bosa and Malvasia di Planurgia in Sardinia.

Malvasia delle Lipari

Since the 1980s, dessert wines made from the Malvasia delle Lipari variety has seen a resurgence in interest on the volcanic Aeolian Islands off the northeast coast of Sicily.

With distinctive orange notes, this Sicilian wine saw its peak of popularity just before the phylloxera epidemic when the more than 2.6 million gallons (100,000 hectoliters) was produced annually.

Malvasia Nera

While most varieties of Malvasia produce white wine, Malvasia Nera is a red wine variety that is used primarily as a blending grape in Italy, being valued for the dark colour and aromatic qualities it can add to a wine. The Piedmont region is the only significant produce to make varietal Malvasia Nera with two DOC zones covering less than 250 acres (100 hectares)-Malvasia di Casorzo and Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco.

Other regions growing Malvasia Nera include the Bolzano region of Alto Adige, Sardinia, Basilicata and Calabria. Malvasia Nera wines are often noted for their rich chocolate notes with black plums and floral aromas.

Malvasia di Candia, Malvasia Puntinata, Malvasia di Lazio

The Lazio region of Frascati is the source of the majority of plantings of Malvasia di Candia, a distinct sub-variety of Malvasia that is not part of the Malvasia Bianca branch of the grape family. It is most often used for blending with the related Malvasia Puntinata and Malvasia di Lazio being more highly prized due to their higher acidity and tendency to produce less flabby wines.

Given the broad expanse of the Malvasia family, generalizations about the Malvasia wine are difficult to pin-point. Most varieties of Malvasia are derived from Malvasia Bianca which is characterized by its deep colour, noted aromas and the presence of some residual sugar. The red varieties of Malvasia tend to make wines with pale, pinkish to light red colour. In its youth, Malvasia wines are characterized by their heavy body that is often described as "round" or "fat" and soft texture in the mouth. Common aroma notes associated with Malvasia include peaches, apricots and white currants. Red Malvasia wines are characterized by richness and chocolate notes.

Fortified Malvasia, such as Madeira, are noted for their intense smoky notes and sharp acidity. As Malvasia ages, the wines tend to take on more nutty aromas and flavours though many Malvasia has a short life span of only a few years after the vintage.


Source(s): Banfi, Jancis Robinson and Italian Wine Connection

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