Malvasia has a place in history, Shakespearean literature and Vega de Ribes, as I learned on a recent trip to the winery. Legend has it that the Duke of Clarence, brother to King Edward IV, chose to die of drowning in a cask of malvasia when sentenced to death for treason. Napoleon supposedly brought malvasia wine with him to enjoy in exile in St. Helena. Shakespeare makes several mentions of malmsey, the English term for malvasia wine, in his plays; in “Henry IV”, the Prince of Wales is accused of having sold his soul for a glass of malmsey (“an absolutely penetrating wine”) and a chicken leg. At Vega de Ribes, malvasia is their featured wine. Twenty years ago the Bartra family began growing the grape, which was taken from the only other vine in the region (at the Hospital Sant Joan Baptista in Sitges).
The family’s ownership and involvement on the land, however, dates back centuries – specifically, the 16th century A.D. In the tasting room, Enric Bartra proudly showed us the family tree drawn up in 1869, which traces his ancestors and the property back to 1540. Just as impressively, some parts of the house though are from the 13th century when a castle and its fortifications stood on the land. While we strolled through the vineyard and winery, Enric pointed out some examples of the history that visibly remain: the dry stone walls still standing, the carob trees that are hundreds of years old, and the old and “new” wine cellars. The new cellar is unlocked by an oversized key that could be used in a movie set in the Medieval Ages. Engraved on the key is the year the new cellar was built – 1766. He estimated that the old cellar, still functioning and in use, is from the 15th century.
Vega de Ribes produces several other wines besides malvasia, including a sauvignon blanc, a merlot and syrah. Wine Pleasures was lucky enough to try their newest wine, a sparkling malvasia (likely the only one on the market so far). The 100% malvasia bubbly is less than a year old, undergoes only one fermentation, has no added sugar, and derives its bubbles naturally from the pressure built in the bottle rather than artificial injection. As Enric said, the best way to judge it (and the only way to enjoy it!) is to taste it. Sadly, for those of us not in Northern Spain, due to limited production the sparkling malvasia will be available only at the winery for the time being.
The Bartra family still lives on the land today and grows a large variety of Mediterranean fruit trees and aromatic plants. Aside from producing grapes for wine, Enric spoke of the family-pressed olive oil used at family dinners and the fruits picked and enjoyed during the warmer seasons. All plants are grown organically as a result of the family’s respect for and sustenance from the land. The family also appreciates their history and place in the local community. In fact, the Slow Foods Foundation for Biodiversity has awarded Vega de Ribes with its Presidium title for the cultivation of a local grape to accompany locally grown foods.
On offer at Vega de Ribes are several options for touring the vineyard and learning more about the estate or wines. Each tour is five euros and lasts approximately one hour. The tours range from wine tasting (a general tasting of their wines, or a tasting of their malvasia paired with chocolate “Malvasia de Sitges Tour”) to bird watching (“vineyard Birds Tour”) to specific vineyard tours (“100 Vineyards Tour”, “Centennial Carob Tree Tour”, “Dry Stone Walls and Cabins Tour”, “Mediterranean Aromatic Plants Tour”). Additionally, the property is wheelchair accessible. And of course, the only way to try the sparkling malvasia wine is to visit the winery!
Anne Shih, wine travel writer for Wine Pleasures
Enric Bartra tells us about the Malvasia de Sitges grape variety:
Tasting Vega de Ribes wines including the famed Malavasia: