A tale of two Malvasia Biancas

A tale of two Malvasia Biancas

Malvasia Bianca…does it sound exotic? A little Italian right? This is not a wine you come across very often, but, it is gaining ground, at least with a couple of my favorite winemakers.

I first had Malvasia Bianca at a winemaker dinner. Actually the very first Larner winemaker dinner, held at Ballard Inn with Larner wines and delicious food by Chef Budi Kazali. (read about it here) It was served with the dessert course.

Michael Larner grows mostly Rhône varieties on his Ballard Canyon Vineyard. The Malvasia is his exception, a nod to the time spent growing up in Rome while his father was filming there. Obviously, by the name, this is an Italian variety, but lets dig a little deeper.

Malvasia Bianca

Malvasia does not make the list of the top 15 grapes in Italy. It is thought to come from Greece, but became very popular with the Venetian Merchants. It was so popular it became synonymous with Venetian wines, with Venetian wine merchants naming their stores Malavasie. Malvasia Bianca is the sub-variety that is white. It is often likened to Muscat with it’s sweet nose.

In Italy you find it in Lazio (the area around Rome), among other places, where it is blended with Trebbiano into the famous Est! Est!! Est!!! (which has it’s own fabulous story which you can read here as told by the Bubbly Professor)

Map of Italy
Map of Italy

California’s Central Coast is now home to a considerable amount of Malvasia and I happened to have 2 bottles in my cellar. One from Larner Vineyards in Santa Barbara’s Ballard Canyon and another from Bonny Doon Vineyards with grapes from Monterey. Strangely enough, both wines are from winemakers known for Rhône varieties and this is not a Rhône. So when you have 2 bottles of Malvasia, why not do a comparative tasting?

Larner 2017 Malvasia Bianca

Larner 2018 Malvasia Bianca Ballard Canyon
Larner 2018 Malvasia Bianca Ballard Canyon

This wine is from Larner Vineyard in the southern part of Ballard Canyon. It was destemmed, crushed and got a 24 hour cold soak before it was pressed.

Fruit was destemmed and crushed for a 24-hour cold soak on the skins before pressing. Fermented in 50% stainless steel and 50% concrete egg around 62 degrees for 4 weeks. The wine spent 2 months of ageing sur lees in Stainless steel and concrete, before bottling, followed by a minimum of 4 months in bottle before release.

http://www.larnerwine.com

Bonny Doon 2018 Malvasia Bianca

Bonny Doon 2018 Malvasia Bianca
Bonny Doon 2018 Malvasia Bianca

These grapes hail from Monterey County from the Loma del Rio Vineyard. Bonny Doon only made 182 cases of this lovely wine.

I found a bit of details on this charming label, from a speech that Randall Grahm gave last year on labeling. The wine was originally under the Ca’ del Solo label.

Chuck House and I came up with the idea of using a kind of cartoonish illustration on a series of wines we made under the Ca’ del Solo label. This is a picture of little Malvasia Bianca on her first day of school, letting go of her mother’s hand, going “solo” (get it?) and of course, stepping on every crack in the sidewalk she comes across.

https://www.bonnydoonvineyard.com/keynote-speech-wines-vines-packaging-conference-august-9th-2018-yountville-ca/

Evidently the label cause a stir in Washington where they took offense to a depiction of a child on the label. Luckily, all ended well and this sweet girl who is a little bit of a renegade still appropriately graces this wine’s label.

The battle!

Really…I have overplayed this. It’s not a battle. These wines are apples and oranges…both of which I love. Similar but different, from different vineyards, soils and winemakers.

We paired with crab rangoons, crab cakes, lo mein and teriyaki salmon.

Crab rangoons, crab cakes, teriyaki salmon & lo mein
Crab rangoons, crab cakes, teriyaki salmon & lo mein

The Bonny Doon Malvasia Bianca from Monterey

This wine was lush with honeysuckle on the nose (I wanted to dab it behind my ears!). It was sweet with lychee like a Gewurztraminer on the nose and florals and perfumes on the palate. There was a little waxiness (the tasting notes say “a slightly waxy, lanolin finish.”, but it was subtle. This was medium weight with light acid as you would expect with this variety. I found that I liked this best with the rangoons and teriyaki salmon, as it tending to lend itself to the sweetness of these dishes.

Larner Malvasia Bianca from Ballard Canyon

This wine is a year older, a different vintage, a different winemaker. Remember I said that the first time I had Malvasia Bianca was a dessert pairing with a Larner Malvasia. I remember it being sweet. This wine was not. It had more white florals with the honeysuckle on the nose as well as a little mineral or chalk note. It was tarter on the palate with soft citrus, like meyer lemon. This was a clean fresh wine and it seemed higher in acid than the Bonny Doon. I enjoyed it more with the crab cakes and the lo mein, the bit of minerality working with the umami and red pepper flavors making them explode in my mouth.

The takeaway

  • Larner Vineyard
  • Larner Los Olivos Central Coast Wine Country
  • Bonny Doon beach

So as you can see, it’s best that I opened both of these bottles to best enjoy all of my meal! Both are delicious and made by two of my favorite winemakers. Of course you won’t find either of these wines made in large quantities. I suggest that you take a road trip, stop by Larner’s tasting room in Los Olivos and then head up the coast and visit Bonny Doon in Davenport! (Or hell jump on a plane and head to Rome!) Mostly, you should pick up a bottle of a type of wine you have never tried before. Explore and taste and travel through the bottle.

  • Find Larner Wine’s tasting room in Los Olivos at 2900 Grand Ave.
  • Bonny Doon’s tasting room can be found on the California Coast in Davenport at 450 Hwy 1

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Sparkling Vermentino – “tears of laughter and joy”

As I went looking for a bottle to open for a simple evening dinner, a small celebration of the end of a work week, I came across a bottle of sparkling vermentino in the wine fridge.

I love vermentino and today was one of the first really hot days this summer, with temps hitting triple digits. Those kind of temps call for something bright and vermentino certainly fits the bill. On top of it, it was a sparkling vermentino. Well I am always down for bubbles!

It was from Bonny Doon and I flipped it over to read the back label. Randall Grahm always has enchanting lengthy back labels. The description ended with ” -tears of joy and laughter”. Well…now of course I was going to pop this bottle! I really needed that at the end of this week!

Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

This wine is a blend, 77% Vermentino and 23% Grenache Blanc from Beeswax and Cedar Lane Vineyards in the Arroyo Seco AVA within Monterey County. This AVA sits in the Santa Lucia mountain range.

Soils are Arroyo Seco gravelly loam, with river stones that absorb the heat during the day and radiate in the evening. The vineyards are nearby to each other and closer to the valley floor between 300-500 ft. The valley has a cool climate with Pacific ocean breezes every afternoon.

https://shop.bonnydoonvineyard.com/product/2017-Sparkling-Vermentino

The label on this wine is deep green and yellow which inspired the bottle shot, out back on the grass with the fallen blossoms from our desert museum palo verde, Dulcinea-Sophia (yes, I name my trees).

A bit of Dulcinea-Sophia in bloom, our Desert Museum Palo Verde

The back label entertainment

I mentioned that Randall’s back labels (and really anything he writes) are enchanting. He is a thoughtful writer, and while often the words are many, they are all entertaining. This is actually one of his shorter back labels.

Back label of the Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

Pairings

While not included on the label, a quick visit to the Bonny Doon site, set me up with options for pairings. Sometimes, I go off the rails with pairings from what is suggested, but Bonny Doon’s suggestions are always tried and tested. The suggestions were

Oysters on the half shell, Dungeness crab, fish tacos, prosciutto-wrapped melon.

https://shop.bonnydoonvineyard.com/product/2017-Sparkling-Vermentino

So we did some prosciutto-wrapped canteloupe and I whipped up some fish tacos.

Fish Tacos

Fish tacos to pair with the Bonny Doon Sparkling Vermentino

The description of the wine on the site mentioned citrus, lemon balm, lemon-lime, and an herbal note of possibly rosemary…so my fish tacos riffed on this.

Fish taco w/ cod bits en papillote with lemon & rosemary

Ingredients

  • 4.5 lbs of Atlantic Cod bits defrosted
  • 2 lemons
  • 4 sprigs of rosemary
  • medium to small tortillas (I used flour tortillas)
  • guacamole
  • 1 lime
  • spring greens (or cabbage)
  • rice
  • salsa (I like green salsa)
  • salt
  • pepper

The fish

Cod bits en papillote with lemon & rosemary
  • Preheat the oven to 425
  • Cut two large squares of parchment
  • place 6-8 thin lemon slices to one side of center on one sheet of the parchment
  • arrange half the cod on top of the lemon slices
  • sprinkle with salt (I used pink himalayan salt)
  • add a grind of pepper
  • top with 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • zest a bit of the lemon on top
  • repeat with the other sheet and the rest of the fish
  • fold up the edges (here’s a video from @Cooksmarts)
  • place both packets on a cookie sheet
  • pop into the oven for about 20 minutes (or less)

The rest

I typically get a plate and a damp dishtowel and wrap my tortillas in the towel and pop them in the oven to warm for 5 minutes. This steams them so that they stay soft.

Then I gather all the other stuff I want on the tacos. Today it was guacamole, jasmine rice, lime wedges to squeeze, spring greens and I had Herdez guacamole salsa, which is medium heat.

Fish tacos and the Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

All in all a pretty delicious evening! Light-hearted and delicious. That Sparkling Vermentino? Well, they only made 210 cases of it, so if it sounds good to you, you’d best go grab a bottle from their site. It’s set you back $36 a bottle, but the “tears of joy and laughter” make it all worth it.

You can find Bonny Doon online or drive out to their tasting room on the coast in Davenport. The views are spectacular, and the people and the wines in their tasting room will make you want to stay all day.

  • Bonny Doon Vineyards A Proper Claret
  • Bonny Doon beach

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