Today Cynthia Chaplin (Vinitaly International Italian Wine Ambassador, sommelier, educator, writer, presenter, translator, judge) and I chatted about the Leonardo da Vinci Vineyard & Malvasia di Candia Aromatica Wines: the "wine" side of the genius you may not be aware of.
About the Vineyard & the Malvasia di Candia Aromatica grape
The genius of Leonardo da Vinci remains unparalleled and his works of art and scientific knowledge are world renowned. One thing you might not know about him is that he also cultivated a small piece of land – about 8000 m² (a little under two acres) - as a courtyard vineyard.
In 1498 the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Il Moro, gave this piece of land to da Vinci in part as a form of payment for The Last Supper painting, but above all it was a way to grant Milan citizenship to da Vinci. In some of his writings Leonardo da Vinci talks about his vineyard but until recently it was unclear exactly where this piece of land was located.
The exact location of the vineyard was discovered by the oenologist Luca Maroni. His study of Leonardo da Vinci‘s writings along with other historical documents led him to discover the exact location of the vineyard: the Casa degli Atellani, Corso Magenta 65, Milan. The vineyard remained intact for almost half a millenium, but was destroyed by a fire in 1940.
Luca Marone didn’t stop here. His hope was that some remnants of the vineyard’s vine roots were still on the piece of land. Maroni enlisted the assistance of Prof. Attilio Scienza, a grapevine DNA expert at the University of Milan’s Department of Agricultural and Environmental Science. The two worked together and were able to identify the grape varietal from Leonardo da Vinci‘s vineyard: Malvasia di Candia Aromatica. In this article Prof. Attilio Scienza talks about Leonardo's vineyard project.
The next step was to restore the vineyard to its original splendor. Thanks to the support from the Casa degli Altellani heirs the restoration is now complete. The first harvest was in 2018 and the prized bottles were auctioned off. Although possible, it’s costly to purchase wine produced in this vineyard. You can visit the vineyard: thirty minute visits to the vineyard and the Casa Atellani take place every day from 9 AM to 6 PM by reservation only.
Leonardo da Vinci's family made their own wine on the family estate, the Villa da Vinci in Vinci, Tuscany. It's a gorgeous vineyard with wonderful wine, and labels that reflect the life and genius of Leonardo da Vinci
More about Leonardo da Vinci and wine
Leonardo was born into a family of winemakers and wine has always been part of his life. He studied wine cultivation throughout his life and shared his knowledge with family and friends: how to fertilise, get photosynthesis to happen, how to use dry stone walls. He discovered and shared that you shouldn't ferment grapes in an open vat, that wine should first be decanted before drinking, and that it's best to drink small amounts of wine and always with food.
He's also responsible for two of the most important wine inventions that we still use today: the corkscrew, and the wine vat airlock:
Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson
If you haven't yet read Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson then it's time you get your hands on the book! It's his life story and shares every fascinating detail about the genius: his art and creativity that encompasses every aspect of life. It's a must-read: “A powerful story of an exhilarating mind and life...a study in creativity: how to define it, how to achieve it.” —The New Yorker
More about Leonardo da Vinci's Culinary Genius
Leonardo da Vinci also invented the spit, pepper grinder and garlic chopper. In addition, da Vinci designed kitchens. The Isaacson book is full of designs of all kinds, as well as his shopping lists which always contained wine.
Leonardo da Vinci was probably a vegetarian based on his writings and lifestyle. The only recipes he ever discussed were from the plant-based recipe author, Bartolomeo Sacchi, better known as Platina.
Here's his spit design:
Leonardo da Vinci and Agriculture
In 1482 da Vinci began to work for Ludovico Le More of the Sforza dynasty to develop a set of irrigation canals to channel the Po River to rice paddies. It helped develop the Po Valley into the wonderful rice growing region that it is to this day: Italy grows about 50% of all the rice in Europe. At the time of da Vinci it was a way to help feed the people.
Risotto is a favorite Italian dish, especially in northern Italy.
Where can you purchase wine produced with the Malvasia Candia Aromatica grape?
Here are a fe producers to check out:
Ermacora in Friuli
Malvasia Istriana in Friuli is generally better quality for this type of grape and there are a lot of good producers, but it isn't perfumed and floral.
La Tosa in Emilia Romagna (their Ora Felice passito is probably closest to what Leonardo made)
Medici Ermete in Emilia Romagna
Lunaria in Abruzzo
In the Lazio region the Malvasia Puntinata grape is used, and the wines are similar to Leonardo's but not as perfumed. Some good producers include Casale Marchese, Merumalia, Cantine Silvestri, Casale Vallechiesa, Poggio Le Volpe, and Tenuta Le Quinte.
In the Colli Piacentini Wine region you'll find a number of wines produced with the grape. “Malvasia is the most common DOC Colli Piacentini wine. It's produced with the Malvasia di Candia Aromatica grape variety, which originated in Ancient Greece. It's a wine with a straw-yellow color, a characteristic and intense aroma, a dry or semi-dry or sweet taste; it's well-orchestrated and fresh, still or lively, according to the website Piace Doc.
The Colli Piacentini (the Piacenza Hills) Wine region is located at the western end of the Emilia-Romagna region and in 1967 it was granted DOC designation. This area used to be considered part of the Piedmont Wine region. Many wines are produced in this wine region, both reds and whites and also rosé, and range from very dry to sweet.
Although you can’t easily purchase wines from Leonardo da Vinci's vineyard you can try the other wines from the Malvasia di Candia Aromatica grape. Try the Tasto Atellano wine, a wonderful wine very closely tied into Leonardi da Vinci’s vineyard. The Luzzano Castle, where it's produced, was previously owned by the Atellani family.
Learn more about some other great Italian wines:
Do you ever have left over red wine? I usually don't, but when I do I love to make these delicious Red Wine Cookies.
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