The most versatile wine you’ve never heard of: Malvasia Bianca
Sipping with Assistant Winemaker, Connor Bockman
I hate to use the word quaffable as it detracts from the quality and intent of the wine, but if there was ever a wine to buy by the case this white wine would be it. With just 11.6% alcohol, great acidity, and zippy minerality, the impressively versatile Malvasia Bianca can both kick off the night as an aperitif and be tossed back through a porron pitcher at the night’s end.”
How to enjoy Malvasia Bianca
When I’m off to an event, whether it be a dinner party with cork dorks or a weekend at the beach with friends that drink White Claw, the wine I reach for most often is our Malvasia Bianca. This fresh, floral, and easy-drinking wine stands up to wine aficionados and beer-loving friends alike. (Don’t tell anyone, but I can be found drinking this wine out of mason jars more often than Zaltos).
Every year my birthday falls smack dab in the middle of harvest. That means I usually spend it up to my eyeballs in grapes with thoughts of nothing but a shower when I finally make it home. During one of my first harvests, the winemaker gave me a bottle of champagne and truffle popcorn as a gift. Now, this may sound like an odd combination, but trust me it works. So much so that the following year we did it again with the addition of some fried chicken a friend had whipped up. There is something about the bracing acidity of champagne that compliments the richness of popcorn and fried chicken. When I first tried our malvasia after harvest, a light bulb went off and I thought of the pairing. This year for my birthday, I may just have to swap a bottle of Malvasia in for the champagne. Just kidding. I love champagne way too much. Perhaps I just need to have a bottle of both. It is my birthday after all.
The Malvasia Bianca grape back story
Malvasia is an ancient grape varietal, and if you have spent any time traveling through the islands of the Mediterranean, there is a good chance you encountered it as a delicious house wine at the local bistro or in the form of Madera (Which is a conversation for another time). I fell in love with the grape while sailing through the Dalmatian coast, where it seemed as though every island had Malvasia Bianca (or its cousins) planted.
According to the USDA grape crush report, (great bedtime reading if you are having trouble sleeping), there were 4,747 tons crushed of Malvasia Bianca in California. In comparison, there were 642,067 tons of Chardonnay crushed, and a whopping 1,762,084.8 of total white grapes crushed. That means Malvasia Bianca makes up less than 0.2% of white grapes in California. Makes ours seem pretty special right?
The making of this wine
We heard about this vineyard through our friends at Tank Garage and got a couple of tons as an experiment. We had no idea how head over heels we would fall for this wine. We only made 200 cases, and I wish I could keep it all for myself. The vines are located in Solano County at 180 feet of elevation on Brentwood series clay loam. The Capp Inn Ranch Vineyard is not the first place I would go looking for Malvasia Bianca, but man does it work.
These grapes are some of the first picks of the year, coming in around the same time as our sparkling clients’ fruit. Picking this early helps to keep the wine fresh and preserve the crunchy lemon-lime character of the wine that I love so much. We have found that when Malvasia gets too ripe, the fresh floral notes can turn cloying and you lose some of the delicate spice and ripe melon character to much heavier notes of tropical fruit and decaying flowers. We much prefer the former and get it into the winery ASAP.
We keep things simple in the winery, doing a whole cluster press and ferment the juice cold. The wine is bottled in early spring. We try to keep the dissolved CO2 as high as possible on this wine. It brightens up the wine adding just the tiniest spritz, making it that much more refreshing.