A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Malvar - Vinos de Madrid, Spain

Image from the excellent Vinos Ambiz blog
Today's post was supposed to be a breeze.  I had a nice little bottle of wine made from a grape called Malvar that looked like it was going to be fairly easy to find a little information on and write about.  I checked the Oxford Companion to Wine online version first and the first sentence there is "also known as Lairén."  I next went to check out what Wine Grapes had to say about the grape, and the entry in that book also referred me to the post on Lairén.  I went to check out the entry for Lairén and I saw that the authors have Malvar listed as an accepted synonym along with the little symbol that they use to show that this particular synonymy has been verified by DNA analysis.  As I read through the "Origins and Parentage" section, I started to notice that most of the text is devoted to showing that Lairén and Airén are two different grapes and there is no mention made of Malvar at all.  As I read through the entire entry, I realized that no citation is given for the synonymy between Lairén and Malvar at all.  I started to have a familiar feeling.

I checked out some of the citations given for the differentiation between Lairén and Airén and also some of the other papers concerning Spanish wines that I have on hand and noticed something interesting.  Not only do none of these papers indicate that Malvar and Lairén are synonyms, but several of them (citation 1 and 2 below) have huge charts showing the genetic profiles of all the grapes that were analyzed in each particular study.  These charts had entries for Airén, Lairén and Malvar and all three profiles were different.  For those new to these studies (some background here), if all three grapes have distinct DNA profiles (as these three do), then they're all separate grape varieties.  Furthermore, one of these studies (citation 1) was specifically cited by Vouillamoz in Wine Grapes as providing evidence that Lairén and Airén were two different grapes (the other study he cites also shows that those two grapes are different, but it doesn't mention Malvar at all, so it doesn't concern us here).

Despite the claim put forward in the OCW and in Wine Grapes, I cannot find any evidence that indicates that Malvar and Lairén are the same grape.  A few sources indicate that Malvar and Airén have historically been confused with one another, and one paper even has a sample labeled Malvar that was actually Airén, but they clarify this finding by saying "'Malvar' is sometimes confused with 'Airén' (IBAÑEZ et al. 2003), but is clearly separable by microsatellite analysis; hence, accession 3 is considered to be a misnamed genotype and not a homonym of 'Malvar' (43)."  As you might expect, Lairén and Airén have historically been confused for one another as well, but as we've already indicated, several DNA analyses have shown that these are two different grapes.  No study that I've been able to find has given any indication that Malvar is the same grape as Lairén, and in fact, all the genetic evidence that I've seen seems to clearly indicate that they are separate grapes.

Now that we know what Malvar probably isn't, let's try to find out a little bit more about what it is.  Malvar is a white wine grape that is grown to a very limited extent in central Spain, and in 2008 its planting figures stood at around 650 acres.  It is most often found in the Vinos de Madrid DO, which is located just south of the city of Madrid and just north of the region of La Mancha.  It is also permitted in Mondéjar and Ribera del Guadiana, but it is really most important in Madrid.  Compared to Airén, Malvar is a less generous yielder and more of an early ripener.  It also has higher acidity and some producers produce a late harvest wine from its berries because of its ability to maintain balance late into its ripening process.  When made into a table wine, Malvar is often blended with Airén, but several producers do make varietal versions as well.

I was able to find a bottle of the 2011 Zestos Malvar from my friends at Curtis Liquors for around $10.  In the glass the wine was a medium silvery lemon color.  The nose was intense with aromas of peach, grapefruit, honey, lime and honeysuckle flower. On the palate the wine was medium bodied with fairly high acidity.  There were flavors of peach, lime, grapefruit, and honeysuckle with a lovely stony minerality to the finish.  The wine was very citrusy right out of the bottle, but as it opened up it started to pick up more tropical banana and melon flavors.  The nose was just gorgeous and it was a real pleasure just to sit and enjoy it for a little while before having a sip.  This bottle over-delivers for the money in a really big way.  Fans of aromatic white wines will really find a lot to like here, as will fans of high-acid, food friendly wines that aren't wallet-busters.  Malvar is definitely a more assertive grape than Airén but since I've never had a wine made from Lairén, I can't offer any insight as to how similar or dissimilar they may be.


1)  Ibanez, J., de Andrea, M.T., Molino, A., & Borrego, J. "Genetic Study of Key Spanish Grapevine Varieties Using Microsatellite Analysis." American Journal of Enology and Viticulture (54:1). 2003. 22-30.

2)  Martin, J.P., Borrego, J., Cabello, F., & Ortiz, J.M. "Characterization of Spanish Grapevine Cultivar Diversity Using Sequence-Tagged Microsatellite Site Markers." Genome (46). 2003. 10-18.

1 comment:

Fabio (Vinos Ambiz) said...

Curiouser and curiouser! This is really interesting, especially as I have a small vineyard of Malvar in Villarejo (SE of Madrid). Just when I thought that Jancis Robinson and Jose Vouillamoz had definitively cleared up the mystery in their Wine Grapes, it seems that the jury has gone back out. I don’t know what to think now!