Grape (Vitis)
Malvasia grapes on the vine
Color of berry skin Blanc
Species Vitis vinifera
Also called Malvazia
Origin Greece
Notable regions Mediterranean, California

Malvasia (Italian pronunciation: [malvaˈziːa], also known as Malvazia) is a group of wine grape varieties grown historically in the Mediterranean region, Balearic islands, Canary Islands and the island of Madeira, but now grown in many of the winemaking regions of the world. In the past, the names Malvasia, Malvazia, and Malmsey have been used interchangeably for Malvasia-based wines; however, in modern oenology, "Malmsey" is now used almost exclusively for a sweet variety of Madeira wine made from the Malvasia grape. Grape varieties in this family include Malvasia Bianca, Malvasia di Schierano, Malvasia Negra, Malvasia Nera, Malvasia Nera di Brindisi and a number of other varieties.[1]

Malvasia wines are produced in Italy (including Lombardia, Sicily, Lipari, and Sardinia), Slovenia, Croatia, Corsica, the Iberian Peninsula, the Canary Islands, the island of Madeira, California, Arizona, Australia and Brazil. These grapes are used to produce white (and more rarely red) table wines, dessert wines, and fortified wines of the same name, or are sometimes used as part of a blend of grapes, such as in Vin Santo.



A map of the island fortress of Monemvasia in the 17th century

Most ampelographers believe that the Malvasia family of grapes are of ancient origin, most likely originating in Greece.[2] 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 became so prolific in the trading of "Malvasia wine" that merchant wine shops in Venice were known as malvasie.[2] 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.[3][4] 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).

Both Monemvasia and Candia have lent their names to modern grape varieties. In Greece, there is a variety known as Monemvasia, evidently named after the port, though now grown primarily in the Cyclades. In western Europe, a common variety of Malvasia is known as Malvasia Bianca di Candia (white malmsey of Crete), from its reputed origin in that area. The Monemvasia grape was long thought to be ancestral to the western European Malvasia varieties, but recent DNA analysis does not suggest a close relationship between Monemvasia and any Malvasia varieties. DNA analysis does, however, suggest that the Athiri wine grape (a variety widely planted throughout Greece) is ancestral to Malvasia.[5][6]

Grape varieties and wine regions

Malvasia grapes

Most varieties of Malvasia are closely related to Malvasia Bianca. One notable exception is the variety known as Malvasia di Candia which is a distinctly different sub-variety of Malvasia. Malvasia Bianca is grown widely throughout the world in places like Italy, the San Joaquin Valley of California, the Greek Islands of Paros and Syros, the Canary Islands, Rioja and Navarra.[2] Throughout central Italy, Malvasia is often blended with Trebbiano to add flavor and texture to the wine. In Rioja, it performs a similar function when blended with Viura.[7]

Croatian varieties

Malvazija Istarska

Malvazija Istarska got the name after peninsula of Istria shared between Croatia, Slovenia and Italy (see also Slovene and Italian varieties). It represents one of the main white wines of Croatian Istria and the north Dalmatian coast. The vine was introduced to the area by Venetian merchants who brought cuttings from Greece.[2] The malvasia is called malvazija in Croatian language. It is the main white wine in the region.

Italian varieties

Malvasia Istriana

In Italy this wine is grown in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in Collio DOC and Isonzo DOC. The name comes from the Istria peninsula spanning over Croatia, Slovenia and Italy (see also Croatian and Slovene variaties). The vine was introduced to the area by Venetian merchants who brought cuttings from Greece. Malvasia Istriana 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".[2] See also Croatian and Slovenian variety.

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. 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.[2]

Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes going through the drying process to produce Vin Santo.
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.[2]

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.[2] 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.[7]

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.[7]

Portuguese varieties

In Portugal, there are no fewer than 12 varieties known as "Malvasia" which may or may not be related to true Malvasia.[2]

A Malmsey Madeira made from the white Malvasia Candida grape. The dark color comes from the aging process.
Malvasia Fina

In 2004, there was nearly 18,533 acres (7500 ha) of Malvasia Fina grown in Portugal where it is also known as Boal (though it is most likely not related to the grape Bual which is used to produce the Boal style of Madeira). Malvasia Fina is found in the Douro where it is a permitted grape in the production of white Port. It is also found in the Tejo and the Dão DOC where it is grown on vineyard land located at high elevations.[2]

Malvasia Candida

Malvasia Candida (different from the variety known as Malvasia di Candia) has been historically grown on the island of Madeira being used to produce the sweetest style of Madeira wine known Malmsey.[2]

Malvasia Rei

Malvasia Rei is believed to be the Palomino grown in Spain for Sherry production which may be related to the Malvasia family. In Portugal, Malvasia Rei is grown in the Douro, Beiras and Lisboa region.[2]

Malvasia Corada

Malvasia Corada is a synonym used in the Douro for an obscure white wine grape variety known as Vital that may or may not be related to true Malvasia.[2]

Malvasia da Trincheira

Malvasia da Trincheira is a synonym used in the Douro for the white Port grape Folgasão that may or may not be related to true Malvasia.[2]

Slovene variety

Istrska Malvazija or simply Malvazija
(Italian Malvasia Istriana and Croatian Malvazija Istarska)

In Slovenian Istria the malvasia grape is grown in Koper area, especially on Debeli Rtič, Škocjan, Kortina and Labor. It is also grown in Italy and Croatia (see Italian and Croatian varieties). The vine was introduced to the area in the 14th century by Venetian merchants who brought cuttings from Greece.[2][8] Over matured grapes give a desert wine with non-fermented sugars and high alcohol level (around 12 %) called sweet malvasia (Slovene and Coatian: sladka malvazija).[9]

Common synonyms

The various varieties of Malvasia are known under a wide range of synonyms including Malvasier in Germany, Malvazija and Malvazia in Eastern Europe. Despite its similarly sounding name, the French grape varieties (it is a widely used synonym) referred to variously as "Malvoisie" are not related to Malvasia. The one possible exception may be the Malvoisie of Corsica that ampelographers believe is actually the Vermentino grape that may be related to Malvasia.[2] Other synonyms for the various sub-varieties of Malvasia include Uva Greca, Rojal, Subirat, Blanquirroja, Blancarroga, Tobia, Cagazal and Blanca-Rioja.[10]


Malvasia grapes on the vine.

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.[10]


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 color, noted aromas and the presence of some residual sugar. The red varieties of Malvasia tend to make wines with pale, pinkish to light red color.[2] 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 smokey notes and sharp acidity. As Malvasia ages, the wines tend to take on more nutty aromas and flavors though many Malvasia have a short life span of only a few years after vintage.[7]


A bottle of Malmsey Madeira

In the past, the names "Malvasia" and "Malmsey" have been used interchangeably. Presently, however, "Malvasia" generally refers to unfortified white table or dessert wines produced from this grape, while "Malmsey" refers to a sweet variety of Madeira wine, though the latter are also sometimes called "Malvasia" or "Malvazia". Further confusion resulted from the fact that, in the recent past, the term "Malmsey" referred to any very sweet Madeira wine, regardless of the grape variety from which it was made. This was an outcome of the devastation of Madeiran vineyards by phylloxera in the late 19th century, after which, production of Malvasia and other "noble grape" varieties on Madeira was greatly reduced for the next century. As a result, most non-vintage-dated "Malmsey" was made from the widely grown Tinta Negra Mole or even from fox grape varieties. This changed when Portugal entered the European Union in 1986; EU regulations required that any wine bearing the name "Malmsey" be made with at least 85% Malvasia grapes. Even further confusion results from the fact that vintage-dated Malmseys are often labeled "Malvasia" or "Malvazia", probably because the relatively rare vintage Malvasias were always made with Malvasia grapes even when most non-vintage "Malmsey" was being made from lesser varieties.[11] "Malvasia" or "Malvazia" is occasionally used by some companies for non-vintage Madeiras, especially those primarily marketed to Portuguese-speaking countries.

See also


  1. ^ "Malvasia", Epicurious wine dictionary.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q J. Robinson (ed) "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition pg 423-424 Oxford University Press 2006 ISBN 0198609906
  3. ^ Kalligas, Haris. (2002). "Monemvasia, seventh--fifteenth centuries". In: Laiou, Angeliki E (ed). The Economic History of Byzantium: From the Seventh through the Fifteenth Century. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. ISBN 0-88402-288-9
  4. ^ Monemvasia,
  5. ^ Robinson, Jancis. (2002). "'Greek' grape varieties in Italy not Greek?".
  6. ^ Chief Varieties Employed in the Production of White Wine,
  7. ^ a b c d Oz Clarke Encyclopedia of Grapes pg 120-122 Harcourt Books 2001 ISBN 0151007144
  8. ^ Slovene Wikipedia - Malvazija
  9. ^ Croatian Turist Board - Buje oneology, accessed 07/02/2011
  10. ^ a b Robinson, Jancis Vines, Grapes & Wines pg 196 Mitchell Beazley 1986 ISBN 1857329996
  11. ^ Liddell, Alex. (1998). Madeira. ISBN 0-571-19097-9, ISBN 0-571-19659-4 (hardcover), ISBN 0-571-19096-0, ISBN 1-84000-813-X (paperback)

Further reading

  • Jonathan Harris, 'More Malmsey, your grace? The export of Greek wine to England in the Later Middle Ages', in Eat, Drink and be Merry (Luke 12:19 )- Food and Wine in Byzantium: Papers of the 37th Annual Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, in Honour of Professor A.A.M. Bryer, ed. Leslie Brubaker and Kallirroe Linardou, Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2007

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • malvasía — sustantivo femenino 1. (no contable) Uso/registro: restringido. Variedad de uva, dulce y olorosa, de granos grandes, que se cultiva en los países mediterráneos: La malvasía la trajeron los catalanes desde Grecia en tiempos de las Cruzadas. 2. (no …   Diccionario Salamanca de la Lengua Española

  • malvasia — n. A sweet grape used to make malmsey wine. [WordNet 1.5] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • malvasia — s. f. 1.  [Viticultura] Casta de uva muito doce. 2.  [Enologia] Vinho generoso doce feito dessa casta de uva.   ‣ Etimologia: espanhol malvasía, de Monembasía, topônimo [cidade do Peloponeso] …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

  • malvasía — (De Malvasía, forma romance de Monembasía, ciudad del Peloponeso). 1. f. Uva muy dulce y fragante, producida por una variedad de vid procedente de los alrededores de la ciudad que le dio el nombre. 2. Vino que se hace de esta uva …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • Malvasia — (M. di Romania, Monembasia, Napolidi M.), Stadt in der griechischen Nomarchie Lakonien; Festung auf einer, nahe am Festlande liegenden, durch eine Brücke mit diesem verbundenen Insel an der südlichen Ostküste von Morea; griechischer Bischof,… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Malvasia — Malvasia, Carlo Cesare, Graf, ital. Kunstschriftsteller, geb. 18. Dez. 1616 in Bologna, gest. daselbst 10. März 1693, studierte Philosophie, Theologie und Jurisprudenz, wurde Doktor beider Rechte und machte sich frühzeitig auch als Dichter… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Malvasīa — (Napoli di M.), s. Monemvasia …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Malvasia — Malvasīa, griech. Stadt, s. Monemvasia …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • malvasia — [mal΄və sē′ə] n. [It: see MALMSEY] MALMSEY malvasian adj …   English World dictionary

  • Malvasia — Fast lesereife Malvasier Trauben Malvasia delle Lipari …   Deutsch Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.