Malvasia di Lipari (Malvasia di Sardegna) is a white wine grape which is part of the amorphous Malvasia group of grape varieties. Malvasia di Lipari is described as a mildly aromatic grape variety by Dr Ian D’Agata (Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs, p19).
National registry code | 135 (also listed at 98 as Greco Bianco and at 136 as Malvasia di Sardegna).
In brief | ‘Wine from the Malvasia di Lipari grape variety appears to have been produced since at least the C1st BCE. In the modern era Carlo Hauner made wine from it on the (Lipari or Eolian) islands [Lipari, Stromboli, Vulcano, Salina, Panarea, Filicudi, Alicudi], off the northern coast of Sicily, from 1963, the wine being called Malvasia delle Lipari to avoid confusion with [the Malvasia di Lipari wine grape] and wine. [These vineyards had been abandoned says Ian D’Agata in NY on Tuesday 27th June 2017.] In the 1980s Hauner’s work saw renewed interest in the Malvasia di Lipari grape and its wine. Logistics (the small scale of the islands) meant the wine had to be bottled on the mainland, and there was a lack of good enough nursery material – hence Malvasia di Candia Aromatica found its way onto the islands. Malvasia di Candia Aromatica is a fine variety but it was not suited to the terroir here and is not as deep or complex as the Malvasia di Lipari,’ (D’Agata, 2014).
Look-alikes, not | ‘Malvasia di Lipari and the aforementioned Malvasia di Candia Aromatica look very different (see ‘physiology’, below). Malvasia di Lipari has a very scrawny [loosely packed, good therefore for air drying], elongated, cylindrical (rarely cylindrical-conical) bunch, and small, round berries with thin skins. There is only one clone, the VM-4.
Controversy | A 2006 study (Crespan et al) indicated–somewhat controversially it seems–Malvasia di Lipari is identical to Sardinia’s Malvasia di Sardegna, Calabria’s Greco Bianco–which in their study the researchers called Greco Bianco di Gerace, Croatia’s Malvasia Dubrovacka, Madeira’s Malvasia Cândida, and Spain’s Malvasia di Sitges (Malvasía Rosada of the Canary Islands and Malvasia Cândida Roxa are two red-berried mutations of this latter variety). The researchers also showed this Malvasia to be different from Malvasia Istriana and Malvasia del Lazio,’ (D’Agata, 2014).
D’Agata says he was surprised at the conclusions of the Crespan et al study. D’Agata says he fails to see any resemblance between the Eolian and Sardinian Malvasia cultivars (as grapes or wine) or between the former and the Greco Bianco (Greco Bianco di Gerace) variety (and Calabrian producers like Ceratti also do not accept their Greco Bianco is identical to Malvasia di Lipari–but he [D’Agata] adds this may be due to biotypes that have evolved over time, changing their phenotypic aspect in response to different micro-climates and soils; so-called eco-types or site-specific biotypes. A 2008 study by Barba et al determined that all the accessions of Malvasia di Lipari they analysed were affected by leaf roll virus or fanleaf virus, diseases that can explain the great difference in morphologic appearance between the varieties. Also, as Malvasia di Lipari is a very old cultivar, it may have built up numerous mutations over time leading to different phenotypes,’ (D’Agata, 2014).
‘Crespan et al also concluded Malvasia di Lipari and Malvasia di Sardegna are identical. The grapes do look alike–but D’Agata finds the wines smell and taste different but he (D’Agata) adds this may be due to winemaking factors. Sardinians refer to their Malvasia di Sardegna as Manusia and Marmaxia. Testing Malvasia wines around Bosa and Cagliari confirms wines labelled Malvasia di Bosa and Malvasia di Cagliari are made with Malvasia di Sardegna which, in turn, is as we have been told Malvasia di Lipari. Yet Malvasia di Sardegna still remains listed in the National Registry at number 136,’ (D’Agata, 2014).
D’Agata says Malvasia di Sardegna is a non- or slightly aromatic variety used for powerful dry or sweet wines, whereas Malvasia di Lipari is not the most aromatic of grapes but is more so than Malvasia di Sardegna,’ (D’Agata, 2014).
Physiology | ‘Malvasia di Lipari looks and behaves very differently from most other Malvasias. Early budding, susceptible to spring frosts. Prone to powdery mildew (oïdium). Low-yielding. Not very vigorous. Likes volcanic soils,’ (D’Agata, 2014).
Sardinia | ‘There were 220ha of Malvasia di Sardegna on the island in 2009, especially in the central-eastern part around the towns of Alghero, Bosa, Cagliari, and Sorso. Both dry and sweet styles. See Malvasia di Cagliari DOC. The one true Grand Cru is Malvasia di Bosa DOC, in the Planargia area of Sardinia. Key producers: Fratelli Porcu; Battista Columbu; Meloni,’ (D’Agata, 2014).
Sicily | ‘65ha of Malvasia di Lipari on Sicily. Mainly on Salina island, and now also on Vulcano island. 80% of production is sweet. [The dry white wine is called Salina Bianco.] Dried apricot, fresh peach, floral note, intense oranges,’ (D’Agata, 2014).
Dr Ian d’Agata, Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs (University of California Press, 2019).
Dr Ian D’Agata, Native Wine Grapes of Italy (University of California Press, 2014 p44, 49, 86–88.
Italian Wine Unplugged (Positive Press, 2017), p59.