“Wine is sunlight held together by water” ~ Galileo Galilei
On a sunny day in Malta, surrounded by the blue Med and drinking a sparkling rosé by the Marsaxlokk harbor, Galileo’s quote seems particularly apt. We went to Malta seeking much-needed sun and warmth. We found them ~ plus Maltese wine ~ in abundance.
Maltese wine history
We were familiar with the Mediterranean’s rich wine-making tradition (think Italy, France and Spain), but what about Malta? After all, it’s only 60 miles south of Sicily. Turns out that wine in Malta stretches back to at least the time of the Phoenicians, sometime after 1,000 BCE. Malta’s modern wine history dates to the beginning of the 20th century with the founding of most of the current wineries. Malta’s entrance into the EU in 2004 opened the door for the cost-effective importation of foreign wines, which severally hurt Malta’s homegrown wine sales. Fortunately, today there is renewed interest in producing fines wines from the local varietals.
Where can you buy Maltese wine?
With such a long wine-making tradition, why aren’t Maltese wines better known? The answer is simple: it’s a small island and traditionally only produced enough wine for domestic consumption There’s not enough leftover to export, so the only way to taste Maltese wine is to travel to Malta.
A tour of a Maltese winery
We began our Maltese wine education with a tour of the Marsovin winery. The cellar master began the tour with an overview of the history of their wines. During his talk we tasted three wines: a white (Girgentina), a rosé (Shiraz) and a red (Merlot).
Our Maltese wine tasting notes
The white was 100% Girgentina. It was light in body, crisp, slightly fruity (pears and melons, not citrus fruits), no oak ~ very drinkable by itself but would also pair well with chicken, fish and spicy Asian dishes.
The rosé was made from Shiraz grapes. It was dark pink, very slightly frizzanté because it was young (2017), light, crisp, not as fruity as the white, with flavors of red fruit (cherries, raspberries) and slightly spicy.
The red was Merlot. It had a dark ruby color, almost no tannins. It was a very drinkable Merlot.
After the tasting we went downstairs to the cellar where he described how they use “la méthode champenoise” (the traditional method of making Champagne) to make their sparkling wines. After a brief demonstration of their sparkling wine bottling equipment, we returned to the tasting room for snacks and more wine.
Girgentina and Ġellewża: the Maltese wine varietals
Malta has two indigenous varieties: Ġellewża (red) and Girgentina (white). Many international varietals, such as Syrah, Merlot and Chardonnay, are also grown.
Girgentina, the white Maltese wine
No one knows for certain where Girgentina’s name comes from, but some say it is derived from the village of Girgenti, the southwest Maltese village where it was once abundant.
What does Girgentina taste like?
We had a bottle of Marsovin’s 2017 La Torre, which was 100% Girgentina. Drinking an entire bottle at the apartment over the course of several nights confirmed our tasting notes from the Marsovin tour: the wine was light, crisp, slightly fruity (pears, melons), no oak ~ very drinkable by itself but would also pair well with chicken, fish and spicy Asian. It was a great aperitif on warm afternoons.
Ġellewża, the red Maltese wine
Ġellewża is Maltese for ‘hazelnut’ and refers to the grape’s shape, which is less rounded than other types of grapes.
What does Ġellewża taste like?
We had a Delicata Winery sparkling rosé with lunch one day in Marsaxlokk, a harbor town on the southern end of Malta. It was a beautiful, sunny day ~ perfect for having lunch outside. So we did. We both ordered pasta and chose a Delicata Winery sparkling rosé to accompany our dishes. It was slightly bubbly with a light pink color, demi-sec, hints of strawberries and other red fruits. It was light, cheery and delicious ~ perfect for lunch by the sea.
So: should you visit Malta just for the wines?
The native wines of Malta are very good, but are they good enough to merit a trip to the island? In our opinion, visit Malta because of the sun and the sea; but while you’re there, be sure to enjoy plenty of Maltese wine.