What is Malvasía and where is it found?
Malvasía is a hard grape to pin down. It’s an historic white variety which has been grown and used for centuries, especially in the Mediterranean basin, but it has a whole host of different variations depending where you are. Italy, for example, has about fifteen different variations, many of them identified with specific regions of the country. In Spain, it was historically very popular in the Canary Islands - where you’ll find it as Malvasía Volcanica or Malvasía Aromatica - and in Shakespeare’s time the Malvasía-based wines from the Canary Islands were popular in the UK.
In mainland Spain, you’ll find it in various guises, including Doña Blanca, Malvasía Blanca, Alarije, Blanca Roja, Rojal and Subirat Parent. These varieties tend to be less aromatic than their Canary Island counterparts, and are more honied and unctuous. In Rioja, it’s best known as Malvasía Riojana, and is often blended with varieties like Viura (Macabeo) to give to add body and weight. In Cataluña, it’s known as Malvasía de Sitges.
Malvasía's main characteristics
Depending on the variety, Malvasía can have quite low acidity which makes it prone to oxidising so it has to be handled carefully. It’s very much a Mediterranean variety, vulnerable to damp climates or spring frosts.
What does Malvasía taste like?
Depending on how it is made it can give lovely floral aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, with ageing bringing out aromas of candied fruit, ginger and nutmeg. In Cataluña, its aromatic profile, higher acidity and notes of stone and exotic fruit like apricot or mango coupled with occasional light aromas of cut grass, means you might find some wine lovers likening it to Riesling.
Where can I try some Malvasía?
With some many varieties, Malvasía is a very adaptable grape which can underpin a whole range of wine styles from sparkling wines, dry young whites, barrel or lees aged versions, or even naturally sweet dessert wines.
It’s also used in the blend alongside Chardonnay and Viura (Macabeo) in the Solarce Blanco white wine from the Casa la Rad winery in DOCa Rioja. Solarce is made from estate-grown grapes, selected and picked by hand, fermented and part aged for 6 months in 500 litre French and American oak barrels. It’s an attractive straw yellow with green hues, with a subtle and elegant nose with a touch of minerality coupled with white flowers and white fruit like pears thanks to its ageing on its fine lees. On the palate, this is a fresh wine with great body, well-balanced acidity and a long finish. Try it with grilled white fish or shellfish, white meats like chicken, or sushi, pasta or rice dishes.