Malvasia is ofﬁcially translated into English as ‘malmsey’, but this is confusing as that term more usually refers to the wine from Madeira, rather than the grape. Malvasia derives from a Greek, Μονεμβασία, or monem-vasia, “a place with one entrance”. Monemvasia is a fort on Greece’s Southern Laconian cape.
The Malvasia of Lipari wine has been controlled by denomination of origin (d.o.c.) from 1973, with a production of approximately
1,100 hecto-litres a year, produced with a minimum of 95% white malvasia grapes, plus black grapes (called “minutidda” by the
locals, or Black Corinto by the ofﬁcial denomination).
According to how much we have speciﬁed before, It is difﬁcult to say what it is the historical origin of “Malvasia of the Lipari” (you’d need to complete a scientiﬁc survey to compare the various vines, and in particular those of Laconia with the Cretan version), and it’s worth noting that the ﬁrst historical document referring to Aeolian malvasia is cargo note of a notary public from Messina, dated 1653.
The vine today is cultivated in rows; while the old system has almost completely disappeared, the last examples being in Malfa (this was a low trellis network called prieule, with squares of 1.40 x 1.40 metre within those of 5 x 5 metre).
“Withering” is used in the production of malvasia wine: the grapes, after a very careful harvest, are laid down on so-called “cannizze” (mats made with local canes).
Here they wither, dry, slowly, for 10-20 days, according to the weather. There is a daily procedure of “scannizzamento” and “incannizzamento”, that is, the labourers move the cannizze into the light during the sunny hours and into the “pinnate” (special ‘huts’ with an open side) over night or during wet or rainy days.
When the bunches are very dry and withered they are taken to the presses, and squeezed until the last drop.
The juice is then placed in chestnut or durmast barrels and allowed to ferment. It then undergoes two decantings to clarify it, one in January and the other around March. From April, there’s nothing else to do but enjoy what the Italian biologist Lazzaro Spallanzani called, in 1700, this “rare and delicious drink” that “is deep amber in colour, generous and yet mellow, that entirely ﬁlls the mouth with a lovely fragrance”.