Everything You Need to Know About Malvasia

·5 min read
A glass of malvasia wine
A glass of malvasia wine

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Depending on whose numbers you consider, there are well north of 500 grape varieties growing in Italy today. Yet only a handful –– Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Pinot Grigio, and Nero d'Avola, for example–– are familiar to most consumers.  With such incredible viticultural diversity, it's inevitable that many interesting and often idiosyncratic varieties get lost in the proverbial shuffle, and Malvasia is one of them. I The grape plays a deeply important role in many of the great wines of Italy as well as Greece, Slovenia, Madeira, California, and beyond. To learn more about its versatility, check out our guide below.

What is Malvasia Wine?

Malvasia is a wine — and often an aromatic wine — made from the grape variety of the same name. The most well-known are white wines produced from or blended with the Malvasia Bianca grape, though there are also reds that incorporate Malvasia Nera. Malvasia Nera, however, is less commonly seen in the United States, though its contributions to the wine of both northern Italy, in Piedmont (in the appellations of Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco and Malvasia di Casorzo) and southern Italy, especially Puglia and Calabria, are notable. But it's the white wines produced from and blended with Malvasia Bianca and its range of Malvasia cousins around the world that are the most commonly found on restaurant menus and bottle shop shelves in the American market.

Where Does Malvasia Wine Come From?

Wines produced from or blended with Malvasia can be found in many countries. In Italy, Malvasia is grown from the north in Piedmont and Friuli to the south, in Campania and Puglia. Wines are also successfully crafted from various types of Malvasia in the Canary Islands, Slovenia, California, and more. Greek Malvasia is typically a solid option on wine lists. And the Aeolian Islands, off the coast of Sicily, are also a source of fantastic Malvasia. There are even producers in California, like the very well-known Sterling Vineyards, which crafts a popular sweet Malvasia Bianca. For a grape with such little popular fanfare, Malvasia is successfully grown in a remarkably wide range of countries.

Why Should You Drink Malvasia Wine?

In terms of pure versatility, it's hard to beat Malvasia. Excellent dry white expressions can be found easily in the United States, and the aromatic lift it adds to blends can contribute a wonderful sense of perfume, often on the honeysuckle or lychee end of the spectrum. Yet it also can be produced in sweeter styles, like Vin Santo, where it's an important part of the blend alongside Trebbiano, as well as Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco and Malvasia di Casorzo, both of which rely on Malvasia Nera. Malmsey Madeira is crafted from Malvasia; Malmsey is just a synonym for the variety.

Ultimately, there is a style of Malvasia that can fit virtually any personal preference or food-pairing need. For example, the minerality and fruit of a chilled glass of dry white Malvasia are delicious accompaniments to simply prepared  seafood dishes, while slightly sweeter expressions are excellent with more aromatically spiced Thai dishes. Sweet bottlings of Malvasia also work well with funkier, stinkier cheeses, and even a seared slice of foie gras.  Drier expressions seem to work particularly well in the summertime heat.

What Does Malvasia Taste Like?

Since Malvasia is produced as both a dry and a sweet wine – and as a red, white, and rosé wine! -- its flavor profile runs across a broad swath of the spectrum. Both dry and sweet Malvasia often showcase notes of flowers, ripe stone fruit, tropical fruit, and citrus, though the dry style is also often anchored by a seam of minerality. It's also not uncommon to find flavors that are reminiscent of summertime melons. There are many different types of Malvasia, and while they all tend to showcase some sort of aromatic lift, there are important differences. Remain open to them all: You'll even find Malvasia being made into orange wine, and sparkling wine or even orange frizzante! Savoring a glass of white Malvasia right from the fridge will highlight its brighter, more vibrant characteristics, whereas allowing that chill to diminish a bit will bring the more ripe and floral notes forward. The cherry notes of Malvasia Nera can also be highlighted or diminished depending on serving temperature.

Five Great Malvasia Wines

There are countless great Malvasia wines on the market today. These five producers, listed alphabetically, are a perfect way to start exploring all that Malvasia has to offer.

Blandy's 5 Year Old Malmsey Madeira

This is a great example of what the best Madeiras can do with such aplomb: It's ripe and sweet, but also features vibrant acidity and a lift of spice throughout.

Capofaro

Capofaro is both a spectacular Relais & Château property on the Aeolian island of Salina and a producer of standout Malvasia. It's even in the name: The estate is called Capofaro Locanda & Malvasia. Look for their Didyme bottling, a Malvasia that is intimately tied to this land's volcanic origins.

Flora Springs "Soliloquy"

From the venerable Napa Valley producer, this white blend may not be based on Malvasia (the grape accounts for only 15%, with the rest mostly the Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc clone and a bit of Chardonnay), but the beautifully calibrated flowers and sweet-savory spice it provides make it a key component in the wine, which is energetic with grapefruit and kumquats and kissed with fresh-cut herbs like tarragon.

Fontana Candida Frascati

This is one of the most widely available examples of Malvasia from the Lazio province of Italy. It's a blend of Malvasia Bianca di Candia, Trebbiano Toscano, and Malvasia del Lazio, and is a bright, generous white for less than $15.

Radica Malvazija

Notably excellent Malvasia is produced in Slovenia's Istria region, and this is a great example, full of stone fruit and flowers that linger through the long finish.