Malvasia Istriana

Hailing from the Istrian Peninsula, malvasia is best known as a white grape from Italy, Croatia and Slovenia, but its ability to withstand hot vineyard conditions is making it a strong candidate for planting in Australia’s warmer regions, but its versatility will see it perform well in cool climates, too.

Also known as

Malvasia Istriana is a distinct variety that is often referred to simply as malvasia, but that can be misleading as there are 17 different malvasias on the official list of Italian grape varieties, with some unrelated. Those grapes vary from white to red, with also a pink version (rosa). You may also come across malvasia istriana under the name malvasia d’Istria, or under its Croatian name, malvazija istarska, or Slovenian, istrska malvazija.

What malvasia istriana tastes like

The style of wines made from malvasia istriana is quite diverse, with ripeness and use of skin contact creating quite different profiles, but the flavours tend to be in an orchard realm, with apple and some stone fruit, with gentle apricot and peach notes, while straw and white florals are also common descriptors. The wines can become honeyed and nutty with age, especially if on the riper side.

Vineyard & winemaking

A later ripening variety that holds its acid well in warm climates, malvasia istriana can crop reliably high, but becomes somewhat neutral when overcropped. It favours soils that drain well and is resistant to many diseases, except powdery mildew. It is shaping up to be a strong contender for future plantings where adapting to a warming climate is especially relevant. The grape can be made into both fresher, aromatic styles or fuller richer versions from riper fruit, and it is a good candidate for skin-contact fermentation.

Where is malvasia istriana grown?

The Istrian Peninsula is occupied by three countries, mostly by Croatia, then Slovenia and a sliver of Italy. No doubt due to the country’s more internationally celebrated wines culture, malvasia istriana is best known from the Friulian examples that are produced across the Grave plains, in the Collio and down near Trieste (where Italy dips into Istria) on the Karst Plateau (Carso). But the grape is equally if not more important for Istria’s biggest landholders, with it being Croatia’s second most planted white grape. Various grapes called Malvasia are grown across Italy, most related to malvasia bianca, contributing to Tuscany’s sweet oxidative vin santo and Lazio’s Frascati, but malvasia istriana is essentially grown in Friuli’s eastern vineyards. There it is bottled solo and blended to make the region’s famous composite wines, and it is not uncommon for skin contact to be employed on the grape, as is also a regular feature of Slovenian expressions of the variety.

Malvasia istriana around the world

While subvarieties of malvasia bianca are grown around Europe, most famously for the production of Madeira, there are no notable plantings of malvasia istriana, which is unrelated.

Malvasia istriana in Australia

Like many ‘Italian’ varieties new to this country, malvasia istriana was imported by the Chalmers family around 20 years ago, with the first vines planted in their original vineyard in Euston (Murray-Darling) in 2001. The first wine was a trial bottling in 2005. Vines were subsequently planted in their new property in Merbein (2010) and Heathcote (2012). In their first vintage a 2010 malvasia istriana from Central Victoria won the Chairman’s Wine to Watch Trophy at the 2011 Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show. The grape has not been broadly planted, with figures not readily available but it is certainly present in regions as disparate as the WA’s Swan Valley, Queensland’s Granite Belt and Tasmania, as well as in South Australia’s Riverland, to add to the Victorian presence. At present, wines are being made in a very classic pure white wine style, as well as being fermented with skins, with Delinquente Wine Co’s Hell series and Stefano Lubiana’s amphora-fermented wines, for example.

Photo of malvasia istriana grapes seen here, courtesy of Chalmers vineyard.

Some of the best Australian malvasia istriana

Billy Button
Chalmers (Dott.)
Delinquente Wine Co.
Green Man
Momento Mori
Stefano Lubiana
Swan Valley Wines (blend)
Vinea Marson (blend)

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