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Malvasia

Widely and sometimes loosely used name for a range of usually relatively ancient grape varieties, the most famous of which inspires the richest style of madeira. The word is derived from the Greek port Monemvasia, through which so many rich dessert wines passed en route for western and northern Europe in the Middle Ages. Malvasia di Candia (of Crete) is one common sub-variety. In modern Italy there are at least 10 distinctive forms of Malvasia, planted all over the country. Malvasia Toscana is commonly blended with much more Trebbiano in a wide range of Tuscan and Central Italian whites. Malvasia Puntinata is small-berried and superior. White Malvasia tends to be a deeply coloured, quite alcoholic wine which can oxidise easily but has an intensely nutty character, sometimes with notes of orange peel and dried fruits. Malvasia is also grown in Spain and, in Portugal, is the richest of the Madeira grapes, its name having been anglicised to Malmsey. It can be an interesting diversion (from the ubiquitous Chardonnay) in California.