The wines of Malta island

Even the most knowledgeable wine lover will probably never have tasted a wine from Malta. Almost all the wine produced is consumed on site by the Maltese and the horde of tourists in search of sun that sweeps the island year-round. Only a small amount of Maltese wine production is destined for export or to a few rich foreign customers. I enjoyed a short stay on the island to discover the wines of Malta and a world of wine still unknown!


Location and climate
Malta consists of an archipelago of 7 islands, only 3 of which are inhabited, about 100 kilometers south of Sicily and about 300 kilometers north of Tunisia. The main island, Malta, and the second island, Gozo, comprise just over 800 hectares of vineyards. The climate is Mediterranean with very hot and dry summers (the little rainfall is concentrated between September and the end of March). Irrigation is therefore required to grow vines. The climate of Malta is much more favorable to red wine production, but the Maltese prefer to drink white wine, because of the heat.

A little history
Wine production on this small Mediterranean island goes back as far as the Phoenicians time. The Romans, then the Knights of the Order of St. John, continued the tradition. If wine production goes back more than two millennia, the wine industry has always been very modest because of the size of the island. Malta is a very densely populated island with few agricultural spaces. It was not until the 1970s that the wine industry was modernized and international grape varieties were gradually planted.

Grape varieties?
In Malta, more than twenty international grape varieties are grown. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay, among others, are favored by winemakers. There are nevertheless two local curiosities, the girgentina in white and the gellewza in red. Nobody agrees on the origin of these two grape varieties. The girgentina gives very light wines with a lot of acidity. It is often assembled with chardonnay to give it more structure. As for the gellewza, it is a very light-colored variety, often uninteresting when vinified alone. It is usually used in blends with Syrah or Cabernet, or made into cheap sparkling rosé.


The challenges of Maltese wine industry
The island wine producers may face many challenges. First, the lack of space. The archipelago of Malta is very small and finding land to plant new vineyards is a puzzle. There are many winemakers, but very few producers. So, we often find many small plots and winemakers had to be encouraged to produce quality grapes. The oenologists of the main wineries are therefore constantly on the road to ensure the good culture of the vines.
The other challenge is climate. In some places, several months can pass without a drop of rain. Because of this drought, vines constantly need irrigation so that it doesn’t suffer too much. At harvest time, it is so hot that you have to start at dusk and finish around 10:30 – 11:00. At Meridiana Wine Estate, for example, refrigerated trucks are even rented for harvest to ensure that the grapes reach the winery in optimal conditions. It’s also not easy to recruit skilled pickers for harvest as the work is difficult.
Finally, the last problem related to the wine industry in Malta is the cost. Here, production costs are high because everything is imported: machinery, chemicals, bottles, corks, barrels, etc.

Which producers to visit?
In Malta, there are many small winemakers, but only a few producers. Marsovin and Delicata are the two giants of the island, follows Meridiana Wine Estate, and then some producers, especially on the island of Gozo, like Ta ‘Mena, Tal-Massar and Bacchus.

Created in 1919, Marsovin is one of the oldest wine producers on the island. The annual production reaches almost two million bottles. Marsovin owns a little over 20 hectares and also buys grapes from around 300 Maltese winemakers, who represent 200 hectares of vines. The visit of their cellar located in Paola, the port area, is a must. More than 100,000 bottles and 220 oak barrels are stored there. It also produces an effervescent wine made according to the traditional method, the Cassar of Malta (probably one of the only ones of its kind in the Mediterranean basin!).

Meridiana Wine Estate
In 1989, Mark Miceli-Farrugia bought a former military airport, a 19-hectare site on which he decided to plant numerous international grape varieties. Meridiana Wine Estate joined in 1992 the famous Italian family Antinori. The estate produces the Isis cuvée, a fermented chardonnay in steel vats. One of the best white wines on the island. I also liked their Vermentino and Merlot.

Second largest producer in volume after Marsovin, Delicata has been producing wine since 1907. The particularity of the house is that it does not own any vineyard. It vinifies grapes from 380 vintners on the island, representing approximately 130 hectares of vines. Their superb cellar is located in Paola, in a building dating back to the 17th century, built at the time of the Knights of the Order of St. John.