Today’s indigenous variety is Malvasia Bianca Lunga. This one hails first and foremost from Tuscany but can also be found in many other Italian regions including the Veneto, Puglia and Lazio. It was used in the first traditional blend for Chianti set forth by the Baron Bettino Ricasoli. Baron Bettino Ricasoli invented the Chianti formula in 1872. It used to grow in the field alongside Trebbiano Toscano.
Baron Bettino Ricasoli wrote the Chianti formula in a famous letter addressed to Professor Cesare Studiati at the University of Pisa:
“…I verified the results of the early experiments, that is, that the wine receives most of its aroma from the Sangioveto (which is my particular aim) as well as a certain vigour in taste; the Canajuolo gives it a sweetness which tempers the harshness of the former without taking away any of its aroma, though it has an aroma all of its own; the Malvagia, which could probably be omitted for wines for laying down, tends to dilute the wine made from the first two grapes, but increases the taste and makes the wine lighter and more readily suitable for daily consumption…”
Few still use Malvasia in Chianti today to produce their red wines but most still use it to make Vin Santo. Vin Santo is made from dried grapes that spend time in small barrels called carratelli. Madeline of Wine Folly gives a nice overview of Vin Santo here.
Malvasia Bianca Lunga can at times be prone to oxidation so it is best used in a blend with Trebbiano Toscano. It brings aromas and body to the blend. You can find Malvasia in Chianti DOC, DOCG, Bianco dell’Emploese, Colli Lucchesi, San Gimignano, Orvieto, and Verdicchio. You can also find it in the Veneto in Bianco di Custoza, Garda Orientale and Valdadige.
Malvasia and Vin Santo are perfect wines for Valentine’s Day. The right amount of sweetness without going over the top but something out of the ordinary to remind us that that day should be a celebration of love.