Malvasia is one of the grape names that has been applied rather indiscriminately to a number of sort-of-similar but unrelated aromatic grape varieties. Among the gaggle of more than a dozen different Malvasias, one of the most respected examples is known as Malvasia di Lipari, named after a small island off the northeast corner of Sicily. Lipari is the largest of eight isles in this area collectively known as the Lipari Islands or, more often, the Aeolian Islands.
The Aeolian Islands are known for their volcanism—two of the islands, Vulcano and Stromboli, are still active volcanoes—which has earned them a place on the World Heritage list. They are also known for a delicious sweet dessert wine made from the indigenous Malvasia di Lipari, a large portion of which is consumed by the thousands of tourists who come to enjoy the islands’ beautiful beaches and sunshine in the summer.
The most attractive of the Aeolians is the island of Salina (where much of the movie Il Postino was filmed). The noble Tasca d’Almerita family, which has been at the forefront of production and research in Sicily’s wine industry since 1830, acquired 12 acres of vines in Malfa on the northeast point of Salina. The spot is called Capofaro, meaning Lighthouse Cape, and indeed an important lighthouse stands next to the vines, guiding the numerous interisland ferries and other boats around the headland.
At the time of purchase, the vineyards were planted with 30-year-old Malvasia vines, of which Tasca kept the healthy ones and filled in with new plantings. Modern viticultural practices were introduced with a particular goal of better protecting the grapes from sun and wind damage to maintain fresh flavors and aromas. This is demonstrated in one of the two wines made here, Dydime, an atypical Malvasia made with fresh grapes and finished dry. Tenuta Capofaro’s other wine, “Capofaro,” is closer to the traditional sweet dessert wine of the island, taking advantage of new technologies. The grapes are brought indoors intact after harvest and are laid out to dry in order to dehydrate them and concentrate their sugars and flavor components. After a few weeks of drying, they are vinified into a classic sweet island wine. However, Capofaro is not a traditional Malvasia delle Lipari DOC wine, which requires a small addition of a grape called Corinto Nero. Tasca prefers the pure expression of Malvasia and therefore the 100% Malvasia wine is made under the auspices of IGP Salina.
A large, geographically and climatically diverse island, just off the toe of Italy, Sicily has long been recognized for its fortified Marsala wines. But it is also a wonderful source of diverse, high quality red and white wines. Steadily increasing in popularity over the past few decades, Italy’s fourth largest wine-producing region is finally receiving the accolades it deserves and shining in today's global market.
Though most think of the climate here as simply hot and dry, variations on this sun-drenched island range from cool Mediterranean along the coastlines to more extreme in its inland zones. Of particular note are the various microclimates of Europe's largest volcano, Mount Etna, where vineyards grow on drastically steep hillsides and varying aspects to the Ionian Sea. The more noteworthy red and white Sicilian wines that come from the volcanic soils of Mount Etna include Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio (reds) and Carricante (whites). All share a racy streak of minerality and, at their best, bear resemblance to their respective red and white Burgundies.
Nero d’Avola is the most widely planted red variety, and is great either as single varietal bottling or in blends with other indigenous varieties or even with international ones. For example, Nero d'Avola is blended with the lighter and floral, Frappato grape, to create the elegant, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, one of the more traditional and respected Sicilian wines of the island.
Grillo and Inzolia, the grapes of Marsala, are also used to produce aromatic, crisp dry Sicilian white. Pantelleria, a subtropical island belonging to the province of Sicily, specializes in Moscato di Pantelleria, made from the variety locally known as Zibibbo.
Persistent with jasmine aromas and tropical fruit flavors, both grape and name are far-reaching. Approximately 70 registered grapes contain Malvasia as part of their name or are listed as a synonym. The French call it Malvoisie, Germans call it Malvasier, British say Malmsey and confusingly one variety double-times under the alias, Boal, on the island of Madeira. In any case, Italy has more forms of Malvasia than any other country: Malvasia Bianca di Candia, Malvasia di Candia Aromatico and the red-skinned Malvasia di Casorzo from Piedmont. The list goes on. Somm Secret—The actual name could stem from an Italian mispronunciation of Monemvasia, a southern Greek port.