A great meal cannot be considered complete without a glass of full-bodied red or cool, crisp white wine as an accompaniment. There’s really nothing better than a bottle of good, local wine to complement a scrumptious, Mediterranean meal. Whether you’re an aspiring wine connoisseur or a restaurant patron whose wine tasting escapade is a leisurely pursuit, this blog post will certainly appeal to your intellect and senses alike. Here at Marina Club, we believe that the Maltese islands have a bountiful of offerings when it comes to wine, which is why we thought it was high time to pay tribute to our local produce.
A brief History of Maltese Wine Production
The process of winemaking is carried out by dutifully monitoring the fermentation of grape juice, judiciously determining if and how to age, and conscientiously tasting it along the way. Wine production in Malta dates back to over two thousand years ago, to the time of the Phoenicians. With a Mediterranean climate of hot and dry summers and cool winters, it’s an ideal place to produce mature and robust wines.
The demand for Maltese wines is growing increasingly, so it’s no surprise that many brands’ supply sell out completely within a few months of bottling. To overcome the scarcity of grapes, some wineries import grapes from Italy and Greece, sometimes even blending them with Maltese grown grapes and other times, produce wines entirely from imported grapes.
While Maltese grape-growing has got ancient roots, the country’s wine manufacturing is fledgling, and contemporary viticultural practices were developed only recently. Creating quality wine means synchronizing the right site with the ideal grape type, soil, rootstock, trellis system, row orientation, slope, and pruning regime.
Quite literally, reaping what they’ve sown…
Malta’s winemakers work tirelessly to make premium quality wine, toiling frantically as vendangeurs, restrained like athletes in lanes, think quickly with their hands as they trail between tapered vine paths, harvesting ripe grape clusters. But it’s Malta’s winemakers that go the distance. To winemakers, the process of reaping is quite literally a marathon, running its time-consuming course, sans cessation, until the end of the season.
These craftsmen scrutinise the grapes on the vine during the ripening process to ensure the correct levels of acidity in grapes, which will retain the wine’s refreshing trait, and its natural grape sugars fermented into alcohol. Yet, until the other grape components are also fully developed, these zealous grape pickers will need to wait patiently.
Maltese Indigenous Grape Varieties
Features of vineyards in Malta and Gozo are very small properties, averaging about a third of a hectare per vineyard. Incomparable high sunlight hours, calcareous soil, normal to rather high temperatures during the vegetative season, dry summers and controlled rescue irrigation and fresh sea breeze all over the islands all underwrite a premium class grape crops, apposite for manufacturing high end superior wines. Wineries are vigilant to grow varieties suited to the distinct local limestone terrain. Soil samples are sent to leading European experts to evaluate which varieties will thrive here.
Malta boasts of having two main indigenous grape varieties for winemaking – Girgentina and Ġellewża – which to many people’s surprise aren’t found in any other country. Both varieties produce some excellent wines of distinct body and flavour. Girgentina vines produce white grapes, while Ġellewża vines yield large bunches of red grapes, customarily used to produce rosé wines but can also produce red wines.
About 25% of all vines in Malta are Girgentina, whilst 13% are Ġellewża. The average yield for Ġellewża is higher than the average yield for Girgentina. These varieties are grown in small parcels of land with an average size of just over 1,000 square metres. Of course, international grape varieties are also grown here, and they include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Carignan, Chenin Blanc and Moscato.
What constitutes a good grape?
A fruit composed of pulp or flesh, skin and seeds; the pulp creates the juice and is the most important component for wine production. The juice is always pale grey, irrespective of the colour of the grape’s skin. The skin is significant since it diminishes water diffusion and loss from the fruit. Seeds play a less central role, yet mustn’t be crushed because they could release bitter tannins, which is why a gentle pressing is crucial.
What are tannins?
Existent in grape skins, tannins and their amount present in wine is dependent on the quantity of skin contact during wine making. Due to the fact that white and rosé wines receive little to no skin contact, they rarely have tannins. On the contrary red wines have much higher levels of tannin as they undergo maceration, especially thick grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. You can even find tannins in strong black tea: it’s basically the bitter, sharp feeling you experience on your gums.
How is colour obtained in the production of wine?
The extraction of colour (especially in rosé and red wines) is obtained from the skins of grapes into the juice. This is called maceration: where the extracted juice and the skins are kept in contact, usually by pumping over, to facilitate extraction. When the maceration process is shorter than 48 hours a rosé wine is produced, whilst if it’s over said timeframe, red wine is produced.
What about wine acidity?
Present in lemons and tasting less sour in wines, acidity creates a mouth-watering sense, making the wine taste fresh and invigorating. Usually higher in white wines, high acidity is normally a result from cool climates and is a taste that’s typically identified on the sides of one’s tongue.
It’s all about Quality Control and Standards
Malta’s appellation system was introduced three years after the country’s accession to the E.U. in 2004. Currently, Malta has a framework of two wine classifications encompassing prestigious appellations for ‘Quality Wine’, which is a certified wine designation used and recognised all over the E.U. and beyond.
Any local wine from the 2007 harvest onward, had to abide by the Q.W.P.S.R. (Quality Wine Produced in a Specific Region) and pass the D.O.K. (Denominazzjoni ta’ Origini Kontrollata) accreditation. The endorsement comprised of rigorous E.U. regulations and finished wines classified as D.O.K. would have undertaken laborious, autonomous, diagnostic, and organoleptic examinations by blind tasting panels and adjudication both locally and overseas, before the certification was awarded. The D.O.K. is the Maltese equivalent to the D.O.C. in Italy and A.O.C. in France. Such quality control guarantees that each consumer is assured of the wine’s authenticity and origin.
Local wine production has been around for centuries, offering a smorgasbord of white, red and pink still and semi-sparkling wines that have consistently delivered drinking pleasure to many wine enthusiasts and sommeliers alike.
If like us, you appreciate a good glass of local wine, we invite you to come to Marina Club and peruse through our extensive local wine list. Why stop there, though? We have amazing platters (particularly the Maltese Board, if you’d like to keep to the theme of Maltese produce), that are sure to pair perfectly well with your wine tasting experience!