Malvasia Bianca

The Joey Tribbiani of Forgotten Grapes

Malvasia Bianca, the Joey Tribbiani of Forgotten GrapesHey, how YOU doin’? Come on, that’s just fun to say. Sort of like how Joey could make any phrase in the English language sound smutty. Grandma’s chicken salad. Aww yeah!

Anyway, this week’s Forgotten Grape reminds us quite a bit of the soft-hearted lunkhead who graced our TV screens every Thursday at 8 for eleven years (yes, we know it was longer than that, but the less said about the Joey spin-off the better). Both Joey and Malvasia are defiantly Italian and wear it on their respective sleeves (though in reality, both Matt LeBlanc and the grape aren’t FBI’s – full-blooded Italians: LeBlanc’s father is French, and ampelographers – your new word for the day, it means scientists concerned with discovering the origins of grapevines – have traced Malvasia’s root back to ancient Greece).  We mentioned the different aliases both possess (Dr. Drake Ramoray and Joe Stalin for Joey; “Malvazia” and “Malmsey” for Malvasia – more on this later). Malvasia Bianca can be made into everything from light, sweet wines to more full-bodied, drier white wines, while Joey has shown us he has the ability to cry on cue and can spend all day acting in a freezing cold shower  if it means a national commercial spot. Also the sisters, the sisters – both of them have a ton. Joey has seven: Mary Theresa, Mary Angela, Dina, Tina, Gina, Veronica, and Cookie. Malvasia Bianca has...a lot more than seven! And they all seem to have the word Malvasia somewhere in their name. We’ll try to give you a primer on the most notable sister grapes down below.

But most importantly, both Joey and Malvasia Bianca are just fun to be around. They both smell nice, they’re both big softies with a lot of gusto and pizzazz to them, and there’s a reason why Chandler continued to live with the guy into his 30’s (and why Trebbiano – also known as Ugni Blanc – is often paired up with Malvasia in zesty, fruity Italian whites). Malvasia Bianca is simply an easygoing white wine that has a lot of fun in whatever it does, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and puts all of itself into whatever it becomes. Like a struggling actor in New York, it’s just looking for that one big break to endear itself into the heart, minds, and palates of the world, and we’re here to syndicate this grape like no one else’s business. So no one told you life was going to be this way? You’re job’s a joke, you’re broke, you’re love life’s D.O.A.? The solution to all of that is a bottle of this week’s Forgotten Grape, MALVASIA BIANCA. How YOU doin’, indeed!   

How Do You Pronounce Malvasia Bianca?

Either mal-VAY-zee-ah bee-AHN-ka or mal-VAY-zha bee-AHN-ka

Malvasia Bianca Looks Like:

We have a lot of pale white wines on Forgotten, and Malvasia is another one to toss onto the pile. Giving off a pale straw color that in many cases looks light-ish green, these are young, fresh wines without a lot of time on their skins and with hardly any time spent in oak. 

Malvasia Bianca Smells Like:

Similar to Semillons and Sauvignon Blancs, you’ll find many of the same tropical fruit notes on a Malvasia Bianca, but with one noticeable difference: Malvasias have a very distinctive perfumed scent to them. Lots of floral scents such as hibiscus and hyssop, and even some more herbal or vegetal scents, such as green olive. Sniffing a glass of Malvasia Bianca can be equated to walking through a citrus orchard just as the trees are launching into bloom. Lots of fragrant but not overpowering or cloying floral and tropical aromas.

Malvasia Bianca Tastes Like:   

The flavor of a Malvasia Bianca will often depend on the amount of residual sugar left in the wine. More sugar left post-fermentation will result in slightly sweeter Malvasias, while little to no residual sugar means, you guessed it, dryer and crisper wines. Flavor-wise, Malvasias will have lots of the same tropical and citrus flavors smelled earlier: papaya, guava, some pineapple, regular apple, maybe some tangerine as well. The wines often have a very soft, sometimes even slightly viscous or oily mouth feel to them, and they can finish very long, sometimes with a bit of rind-like bite on the back end. Either way, these are very easy going wines that drink very smoothly and can flexibly handle lots of different flavors, as you’ll see below. 

Key Regions:

●        All over Italy

●        The Sierra Foothills and Central Coast of California

●        Portugal

Cindy’s “Did Juneau?”:

There are two competing schools of though when it comes to where Malvasia grapes actually got their name. One side believes that the name “Malvasia” is derived from the Venetian coastal fortress of Monemvasia, which sat on a small island in the southernmost Laconia region of Greece’s Peloponnesian peninsula. Monemvasia, which the early Italians living in the fortress pronounced “Malvasia,” was a central trading hub for the Venetians around the Peloponnesus and Greek Isles, primarily for Malvasia wine in and around the region. In fact, the early Venetians were so prolific in their distribution of Malvasia that wine shops in Venice during the middle Ages were referred to as “malvasie.”

The opposing theory is that the name “Malvasia” is descended not from the Venetian port on the Peloponnesus, but rather from the Malevizi region of Crete, located near the town of Heraklion. Adding weight to this theory is the fact that a major sub-species of the Malvasia grape is called Malvasia di Candia, which means Malvasia from Crete (“Candia” is the Italian name for the Greek island of Crete). Dispelling this theory is the fact that outside of some trace DNA, Malvasia di Candia is almost an entirely different variety of grape than other Malvasias. Either way, and whichever theory you choose to be correct, there is no denying that Malvasia has its origins in Greece but has become better known as an Italian varietal (though as you’ll see, that’s certainly not the only place in the world where it is grown).

Perfect Pairing:

Because Malvasia has an interesting combination of a rich, oily mouth feel but strong acids,  deep-fried foods actually pair very well with it. Two items I think would work particularly well with a Malvasia are frickles (deep-fried pickle slices) and sweet potato chips. With the sweet potato chips, make sure you slice them very thin, so that they get nice and crispy but still have enough width in them that they don’t crumble when you touch them. Then, when they are just out of the fryer and haven’t cooled yet, sprinkle them down with equal parts salt and sugar, and then half of that amount Chinese five spice. It will to bring out the sweetness and earthiness of the potato, and the sharper citrus and acid notes of the wine will play off against the salty, sweet, and savory flavors.

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