The island nation of Malta, just south of Sicily in the Mediterranean, might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of wine production, especially in comparison with some of its larger European neighbours. However, despite there being less than 2,000 acres of vineyards across Malta and its sister island of Gozo, the wine being produced on the archipelago is steadily becoming a fast favourite for wine connoisseurs across the globe.
Until recently, it would fair to say that not many people outside of Malta have tasted Maltese wine. This is likely due to the fact that the locals consume most of the wine that’s produced, with only a small amount of what the country makes being exported to the rest of Europe, with none whatsoever reaching American shores. However, Maltese vintages are currently making a name for themselves in international competitions, winning several accolades in Italy, France and the wider world, so this is trend set to change in the coming future.
Once you’re on the island of Malta, getting to know the local wine is made easy for you. Most restaurants proudly give Maltese wines top billing on wine menus, and more often than not they are the most reasonably priced compared to imports. So if wine in general is of particular interest to you, or it’s simply something you enjoy as an accompaniment to a delicious meal, be sure that the Maltese islands have plenty to offer.
History of Maltese wine
Up until the 1970’s, most wine being drunk in Malta was imported from France and Italy, and what little that was being produced locally relied on the main ingredient of grape juice that was imported from Sicily. This changed during the seventies when wine production became much more serious, and the government began encouraging people to grow their own instead of relying on imports.
Gradually, international grape varieties were planted, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Grenache. These varieties thrived in Maltese soil, due to the hot and humid climate compared to their countparts further north. In time, wine producers also began to make use of indigenous varieties of grape that were once dismissed as ‘bush league’, and these form the basis for Maltese import wines.
The local grapes used in to the production of Maltese wine are Gellewza and Ghirghentine, both of which produce excellent wines of distinct body and aroma. Ghirghentine is a variety of light white wine, which has a fruity and delicate taste, with a balanced acidity. Gellewza, on the other hand, produces a very soft red wine that is closer to a rosé than traditional reds; it’s often used for blending with other reds, and the taste has hints of stone fruits such as cherry and plum.
Thanks to the efforts and dedication of the nation’s vineyard owners in recent years, Maltese wine is beginning to thrive, with several local wines making their way to supermarket shelves across Europe.
Tours & vineyards
The main wineries in Malta organise guided tours and tastings, which are the absolute best way to get to know the local wine. Depending on the season, tours will cover different aspects of the production process (from fermentation to aging), and often include visits to small museums that display artefacts from the history of wine production. Of course, there is also the opportunity to sample and buy wine from a variety of vintages.
There are five large producers on the main island: Delicata Winemakers in Valletta’s Grand Harbour, Camilleri Wines in Naxxar, Marsovin in the Ramla Valley, MonteKristo in the heart of the Maltese countryside, and the Meridiana Wine Estate in Ta’ Quli, all of which will offer some form of guided tour or tasting experience. On Gozo there is Ta’ Mena Estate and Tal-Massar Winery, both of which are in, or close to Xaghra in the north east of the island.
During the first week of September, there is a celebration of the wine that Malta produces, set in the southern city of Qormi. The Qormi Wine Festival takes place in the streets of in front of St. George’s Parish, and runs for two days. The festivities include exhibitions of wine related artworks, artefacts, paintings and other historical and cultural treasures. Considered to be the largest and best wine festival in the Mediterranean, the event is an essential visit for anyone wanting to taste the range of wines available on the islands of Malta and Gozo.
A visit to the Maltese islands provides visitors with a whole range of exciting activities, breath-taking scenery, fascinating local culture, and unforgettable food and drink. What’s more, the nation’s wine is set to blossom throughout the world, and a visit to the local wineries and vineyards really does demonstrate why. Whether wine is a hobby or passion of yours, or simply something to be enjoyed socially, the Maltese Islands will be sure to have something new and exciting for you to enjoy.