Malvasia is a group of wine grape varieties grown historically in the Mediterranean region and the island of Madeira, but now grown in many of the winemaking regions of the world. Malvasia wines are produced in Italy (including Lombardia, Sicily, Lipari, and Sardinia).
It is believed that the Malvasia family of grapes are of ancient origin, most likely originating in Greece. The name "Malvasia" is generally 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 center for wine produced in the eastern Peloponnese and perhaps in some of the Cyclades. During the Middle Ages, the Venetians would become so prolific in the trading of "Malvasia wine" that merchant wine shops in Venice were known as "malvasie". A competing theory holds that the name is derived from the district of Malevizi, near the city of Heraklion (known to the Venetians as Candia) on Crete. In any case, Malmsey was one of the three major wines exported from Greece in medieval times. (For other examples, see Rumney wine and Cretan wine).
Italian Wine regions and varieties
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. The vine was introduced to the area by Venetian merchants who brought cuttings from Greece. 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".
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.
Following World War II, lack of interest in the consumer market lead to a sharp decline in plantings with many varieties on the verge of extinction. 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 north east 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 color 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. In the Puglia regions of Brindisi and Lecce it is blended with Negroamaro while in the 1970s & 1980s, it was a frequent blending partner of Sangiovese in Tuscany. In recent times, Cabernet Sauvignon has been supplanting Malvasia Nera in Tuscany in both planting and in use as a blending partner with Sangiovese. 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 flabbier wines.
Viticulture and winemaking
While differences among the many sub-varieties of Malvasia exist, there are some common viticultural characteristics of the family. Malvasia tends to prefer dry climates with vineyards planted on sloping terrain of well drained soils. In damp conditions, the vine can be prone to developing various grape diseases such as mildew and rot. The rootstock is moderately vigorous and capable of producing high yields if not kept in check.
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 a 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 have a short life span of only a few years after vintage.