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Malvasia

Malvasia… it’s not a variety that is tremendously well known. Those who have come across it, however, know what wonderful, versatile wines it can produce. So, why the medieval map drawing instead of a bunch of grapes?

 

Well, it’s easy to post a beautiful vineyard picture of a bunch of grapes.  What makes this variety so special is it’s history. It is an ancient variety that most likely originated on the island of Crete. The name “Malvasia” is actually the Italian name for the ancient Greek fortress and port, Monemvasia, which was also an important trading center that sent vast quantities of wine throughout the Mediterranean world.  The grape has been grown and used to make wines in a wide variety of styles for many centuries throughout the Mediterranean region; from Greece to the Canary Islands off the western coast of Africa (and, in more recent times, in many New World regions as well).  They were big business for Venetian merchants and celebrated by Shakespeare.

 

With it’s long history and broad geographic range, it should be of little surprise that Malvasia can show a vivid spectrum of styles. The most noted commonality is a deep, golden color, an aromatic quality and generally pronounced mineral quality (perhaps related to the fact that it excels in very dry climates).  Interested in learning more? Try these guys:

 

Still:

 

Birichino Monterey Malvasia Bianca, Monterey, CA, USA, 2013

 

Summertime! This is a beautiful wine and so atypical of what we generally think of coming out of California (which is silly, because there is so much exciting happening there).  A very aromatic white, with fragrant white flower and jasmine bursting forth.  Those flavors translate to the palate as well, but a handsome amount of mineral and acid keeps it mouthwateringly refreshing.

 

Burja Malvazija, Primorska, Slovenia, 2013

 

Winemaker Primoz Lavrencic believes first and foremost, that “good wine grows in the vineyard, the cellar can only preserve it.”  That’s why he farms strictly organically using biodynamic practices.  Wines should have synergy with their environment, so only indigenous yeasts lead to spontaneous fermentation.  Golden in color with a great balance of acid and briney mineral and fresh green herbs such as sage.

 

Sparkling:

 

La Collina Malvasia dell Emilia “Lunaris Secco”, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

 

The amazing story of Cooperativa Agricola La Collina is fantastic, but far too long to tell here.  Some highlights include the fact that they were Italy’s first biodynamic producer, that in addition to wines they have free-range animals, grains and vegetables, that they have a shop were they sell their produce along with the finished wines, honeys, breads and other products they make (free-range, organic Parmigiano Reggiano, anyone?) and that the whole Co-op is run as a rehab facility for young adults in recovery from drug addictions. What?! Oh, and the wine? Amazing and unlike anything you’ve had before: somewhere in between an orange wine, a Pet Nat and a Loire Valley Chenin Blanc with amazing cider-like notes and a purity and cleanness that cannot be topped.

 

Onward Malvasia Bianca PétNat, Suisun Valley, CA, USA, 2014

 

Winemaker Faith Armstrong is one half of Farmer Jane wines; Onward represents her solo project.  This is a lightly sparkling Malvasia from Suisun Valley – just east of Napa Valley.  Beautiful aromas of white flower, lime zest and fine, stoney mineral carry through to the palate.  A beautiful fluffy, cottony texture and a lingering mineral finish.  Deeeelightfully zippy and fresh.

 

Lusenti Malvasia “Frizzante Emiliana”, Emilia-Romagna, Italy, 2013

 

This is a delicious little, sparkling, cloudy wonder!  Lemon-lime fruit, zingy-chalky mineral and an ethereal lift of acid.  It’s not quite a pet-nat, because a little unfermented Malvasia juice is added at bottling to help the secondary fermentation along, but it drinks like one.  We are quickly becoming huge fans of Lusenti wines, which all show tremendous quality over a diverse range of styles.

 

Denny Bini “Levante 90”, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

 

Winemaker Denny Bini is one of the leaders of the renaissance of quality, tradition-styled, natural sparkling wine production in Emilia-Romagna.  That’s a mouthfull, but it’s important. This area has a long history of sparkling wine production, but the past several decades have been dominated by industrial scale, unthoughtful wines.  Denny is making 6000 bottles (1 red, 1 rosé & this white) from his single hectare of organic vineyards. Golden fruit, tangy acid, robust and lasting mineral and a pithy effervescence make this delightful.

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