Malvaxia Passito dessert wine at Barboursville Vineyards outside Charlottesville, VAIt’s funny how things go sometimes.  I recently wandered up to Barboursville Vineyards on one of those seemingly not-so-rare mild February days, half fevering for spring already.  Barboursville was an intentional destination, as I’d been gifted a certain bottle and thought to compare mine against the rest of the winery’s extensive lineup.  Turns out something totally unexpected stole my wine loving heart: the 2006 Malvaxia Reserve Passito.

First introduced in 2001, the Malvaxia Passito is a labor of love.  Unlike the process for making ice wines, grapes for this style of wine are never frozen.  Instead, following Italian tradition, the choicest Moscato Ottonel and Vidal grapes are hand-picked and harvested before the first frost, then air-dried on open racks for 100 days before pressing and subsequent aging in small oak barrels for 18-24 months…none of which I knew while standing at the Barboursville wine bar.  It’s fascinating stuff, winemaking, but for me it’s backstory.  My litmus test for wine tasting is simple:  Do I like it?  If the answer is yes, as it was with the Malvaxia Passito, then I’m curious to know why and set out to learn what I can.

As a full-bodied, intense dessert wine, the Malvaxia Passito came last in the day’s tasting, and for me it was an unexpected pleasure.  Colored like honey, this wine offers layers of flavor, reminding me mildly of apricots and nut.   Think fruit and honey when you sip, and it’s not a far reach to sense them.  Sauvignon Blanc lovers, don’t let the tag “dessert wine” scare you: its sweetness (12% residual sugar, for those who were wondering) is counterbalanced both by depth of flavor and a bit of acidity.  The flavors, and fragrant aroma, linger long after the first sip.  Heady.  The wine makes a happy companion on its own, but to those of you who are curious but care to curb your sweet tooth, it would be fun to pair with some nice cheeses and see which combinations pop.

Unfortunately, the tasting room doesn’t offer comfortable space for lingering inside with a glass or bottle.  Foodies might opt to check out the attached Palladio Restaurant; I opted for a stroll up the lane to visit the Barboursville Ruins, impressive remnants of a 19th century plantation house designed by someone with whom you may be familiar, who tended to favor octagonal shapes and domes.

At $29.95 a bottle, the Malvaxia Passito is a bit of an investment, but if you have more willpower than this girl, hang on to it for up to eight more years.  If you’d rather enjoy it now, a nip at a time, my opened bottle kept for a good week in the fridge.  Just be sure to re-cork it.  Salute!