Old World/New World Explorations of Malvasia (#ItalianFWT)

Today we're exploring Old World and New World versions of an aromatic grape that was once all the rage, but isn't so well known in the modern world: Malvasia. While it might masquerade around in different forms and under different names, it's effusive, quite perfumed, and has a lot to say.

This post contains wines that were provided as samples. No other compensation was received for this post and all opinions are my own. It also contains affiliate links from which I might gain a commission at no cost to you.

Imagine you’re walking through an orchard. This orchard has not one, but many fruit trees – peaches, apples, pears, and oranges. You’re holding a bouquet of flowers as you walk, and notes of honey and ginger also waft your way as you walk. This is kind of what it’s like to sniff a glass of Malvasia. 

Well  . . . it depends on the glass of Malvasia. This is one of those ancient grapes that has moved around and changed quite a bit, so it’s hard to generalize. Rather than just one grape, it’s really a family of grapes, but it’s a family that also has a lot of pretenders. According to Ian D’Agata in Native Grape of Italy, in Italy alone, there are eighteen official varieties that have Malvasia in the name. Some of them are genetically related but many aren’t. It appears to be one of those names that got doled out a lot throughout Italy whenever a grape in one spot bore a passing resemblance to a grape in another. Originally, the word is thought to have come from the name of the medieval Greek port Monemvasia, through which dessert wines made from the grape were commonly passed en route to various destinations throughout Europe. (The grape was commonly thought to have come from Greece, but that theory has largely been discredited.) 

Monevasia was eventually conquered by the Venetians and became an extremely important trading port for the city-state. The Venetians exported so much of the wine that many wine shops, taverns, and street names were named after it. As a result of all of this Malvasia flowing throughout Europe, the wine earned international acclaim and was in extremely high demand. Legend has it that in 1478, George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence, was found guilty of treason for plotting against his brother King Edward IV of England, and when given the option of how to die, chose to be drowned in a butt of Malmsey (Malvasia) wine. The scene is captured in Shakespeare’s  Richard III.

Carnival of venice 2020 onderkokturk 01
Image borrowed from Wikipedia.com

Despite Malvasia’s renown as a wine worth dying for in the 1400s, it’s not at all surprising if you haven’t heard about it in the modern world. Maybe it took a cue from its association with Venice, because this is a grape that has a tendency to masquerade. In addition to Italy, you’ll find it grown all around Europe, but you might not recognize the name as it has tons of different synonyms. On top of that, it’s often a part of white blends in regions where you might not see the name at all like in white versions of Chianti in Tuscany and in white Rioja in Spain. It’s also grown in the US. 

In addition to moving around quite a bit, this grape is also made in many different styles – dry, still, sparkling, and sweet. There are even red versions of the grape –– so basically, all of the styles of wine. It’s used to make vin santo in Tuscany and passito wines in many places in southern Italy and its islands. In Portugal, it is used in making white Port, as well as Maderia, where it goes by the name of Malmsey (a personal favorite). 

Today we’re going to take a closer look at still examples from Collio in northern Italy and from near Santa Barbara in California, alongside a couple of different pairings. Both of today’s bottles today were very expressive and aromatic in a way that jumped right out of the glass. They’re the type of wines that tend to lend themselves to pairing well with very flavorful foods, so I tried them with dishes from a couple of different cuisines and flavor palates. 

While the wines had a lot in common with each other, there were also the differences you’d expect to find in an Old World/New World comparison. To be more specific, the Italian version showed more minerality and the bottle from California showed riper fruit notes. I should say, even riper fruit notes, because the Italian version certain wasn’t lacking on this point. 

The Food 

Over the course of two evenings, we paired our bottles with a couple of very different dishes. On our first evening, I made a Spicy Jerk Potato & Pineapple Hash with Shrimp. I adapted the recipe from one I found on the BBC’s Good Food website below. I absolutely love the combo of big flavors here, but it's a type of dish that’s often tricky to pair with wine thanks both to the heat of the jerk seasoning as well as the sweetness of the pineapples. I thought Malvasia might be up to the task. 

On the second evening, I made Wenchang Chicken and Rice (aka Hainanese Chicken and Rice). I think of this dish from the island province of Hainan, China, as a comforting meal, which could be viewed as more simple, since it involves poaching a chicken in a ginger-infused broth, both of which are then served over rice. It’s certainly a bit more subtle in comparison to the Jerk Hash. That said, it does still have a mix of flavors including ginger, white pepper, and chiles. This version from Saveur also gets an extra vibrant pop from a sauce made with calamansi. I thought the ginger and citrus sauce would resonate well with Malvasia. 

Wenchang Chicken might not be the most photogenic of dishes (or maybe it's just my rendition), but it is super soothing and soul-satisfying.

Both wines worked solidly well with both dishes, but each wine won a round of competition, as we’ll see below.

If you’re looking for additional pairing suggestions for Malvasia, a round-up of recommendations from around the internet includes: Cajun Dishes such as etouffee and gumbo, moo shoo pork, pad Thai, salads with fruits like a Waldorf salad, fruit kabobs or fruit-based salsas, seafood dishes, Gorgonzola pizza with walnuts and pears, seasoned vegetable dishes, and a chicken sandwich with gravy. Basically, much like Riesling or Gewurztraminer, this is a good contender whenever you have foods that have intense seasonings or if you have a dish with widely different elements to bridge together.

The Wines

Both of today’s wineries can be found in the Slow Wine Guide. If you’re interested in wines that are conscientiously made, Slow Wine is a great resource when looking for wineries from Italy and the US “that respect and reflect their local terroir and practice sustainable methods that benefit the environment.” 

For more on the Slow Food & Wine movement check out this post from Gwendolyn of Wine Predator.

Venica & Venica  Pètris Malvasia Collio 2018

ABV: 13.5% | Average Price: $21 (this bottle was gifted to me by a friend)

This wine comes from the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in northeastern Italy, right up against the Slovenian border. This region is very hilly (collio is derived from the Italian word colli meaning “hills”) and it experiences maritime influences as well since the Adriatic coast lies just 25 kilometers away. (For more on Friuli, see this post.)  It’s also only about an hour and a half from Venice, so it’s not surprising that this grape would have taken up residence here. The version of Malvasia we find here is Malvasia Istriana (which is truly genetically part of the family), and it’s been at home here since at least the 13th century. Malvasia is part of the traditional white blend of the region, along with Ribolla Gialla * and Friulano. 

The Venica family has had their winery in the region since 1930. They’ve made sustainability a key focus of their operation and have laid out many of their practices on their website, including the methods to prevent wasting water and recycling raw materials. You can also find a full sustainability report on their website

Tasting Notes: On the nose, there was a bouquet of flowers with honeysuckle and orange blossoms, which were joined by fruit notes of baked pears and apples, apricots, melons, and orange zest. On the palate, these notes were joined by beeswax, ginger, and creamsicle, with traces of minerality. The wine was textured, with medium acidity (which is typical for the grape), but balanced with a dry finish. 

Additional details on the 2019 vintage of this wine can be found here

Pairings: We particularly loved this wine with the Wenchang Chicken and Rice. The notes of ginger and citrus were echoed in the wine. Both the food and the wine had an interesting blend of delicacy with a pop of vibrant flavors and they matched each other beautifully on this level.

The wine wasn’t a bad match with Jerk Hash, but the intensity of those flavors did drown out the flavors of the wine a bit.

Lepiane Malvasia Bianca Happy Canyon 2019

ABV: 13.9% | Price: $28 (sample)

I spoke with winemaker Alison Thomas and wrote the Lepiane entry for the 2021 Slow Wine Guide. It’s a testament both to her wines and to Coravin that the bottle that I tasted from for that guide was still showing beautifully when I finally actually opened it earlier this week! (It was stored in a wine fridge, which I’m sure helped preserve it, but it is also the reason that the wine was out of mind for so long.) I really dig her wines and previously shared her Barbera in this post. I think she does a really great job with Italian varieties in California. Her wines have a way of both showing the typicity of the grape and their California-ness at the same time. 

Alison’s career has blended a love of science and an appreciation of enjoying time at the table that she picked up from her parents. She found a way to bring it all together in wine and in the process she spent quite a bit of time working in amazing wineries in both Italy and California before starting her own project. 

The grapes for this wine come from the Happy Canyon sub-region of the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County. Happy Canyon is a tiny and young AVA, having achieved its status in 2009. It’s in the eastern end of the Santa Ynez Valley and it has rolling hills with a rocky mix of mineral-rich soils that tend to give concentrated wines. It also gets hot here – 100°F days are not unusual in the summer. Thankfully, those temperatures plummet by 40 to 50 degrees at night, and mornings can be foggy. That wide diurnal shift in temperature is a magic combo that leads to ripe grapes with lots of flavor, but with enough acidity to keep them from tasting flabby. This wine is a perfect example – it tastes like sunshine on a spring day but has a bit of tanginess to show it still has a spring in its step. 

Tasting Notes: There are lots of flowers on the nose – jasmine, orange blossoms, and vanilla – along with tropical fruits like pineapple and mango, as well melons, apples, and peaches. That heady mix of fruit continued on the palate. This is an opulent wine with lots of texture, and while the acid’s medium, there’s enough to keep everything bright and lifted. All of that ripe fruit gives the perception of a bit of sweetness. 

Additional details on the wine can be found here

Pairings: We dug this with the Jerk Hash. All of those concentrated fruit flavors were able to stand up nicely to big flavors in the food. Not an easy feat. The wine also provided a refreshing counterpoint to the spice. 

It also worked well with the Wenchang chicken, however, the intensity of the fruit with all of its tropical notes felt a little less balanced with the lighter flavors in that dish. 




More Malvasia

Here are a few more bottles of Malvasia we've had and enjoyed, to keep an eye out for. 

Paul Lato Boogie Nights Malvasia Bianca Ballard Canyon 2016, Laventura Malvasia Rioja 2014, and Day Wines Mamacita Petillant Naturel Willamette Valley NV includes Malvasia as part of the blend.

And for more posts in which Malvasia makes a cameo, check out:


Thes rest of the Italian Food, Wine, Travel (#ItalianFWT) blogging group will be exploring Slow Wines from Italy. Be sure to check out their posts: 

Additional sources used for this post and extra reading:



  1. I have not heard of Malvasia but I am going to be keeping my eyes open.

  2. Love that you compared 2 Slow Wines from 2 different guides in 2 different countries! And I love that you chose Malvasia which I can see would work really well with these kinds of dishes. Thanks for the history lesson also!

    1. Thanks and thanks for hosting. I really enjoyed the topic.

  3. I have had Malvasia before, and I have always wondered what to pair with it. I love all your pairing suggestions and also the two dishes you made! So nice to hear that it went well with the chicken rice and ginger. I am inspired!

    1. Thanks Deanna. Let me know how it works out if you try the combo.

  4. Very interesting! I didn't know about the wide variety of Malvasia out there. I haven't had it outside of Italy that I know of; definitely not new world, curious to try. I will have to try it some big flavors as you did here. The most recent pairing I have on Cooking Chat is a Malvasia Puntinata that was very good with a Spinach and Mushroom Pasta. The dish also had some prosciutto in it, and I think that brought some umami that helped make the paring work.

    1. Thanks David. I'll have to remember that combo to try in the future.

  5. What a beautiful dish! I liked seeing the comparison of the Italian Malvasia to that of California. I have never had one outside Italy. I'm such an Old World girl ; )

    1. Thanks! It really is surprising to see how many places it's grown.


Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!