How is that possible that on the island with few thousand years od settlement history, with Europe’s oldest detached temples the best vineyards are only 100 years old. The British are to blame for everything. In 19th century when they ruled the island all vines were destroyed ruining long history of vine growing and were replaced by cotton.
Viticulture on the island was initiated by Phoenicians, continued by Greeks and Romans. Even Arab domination on the island didn’t destroy the tradition. In 16th century when the Order of Malta came to the island the wine industry developed. Along with Joannites came new techniques of vine cultivation and the export of wine grew so much that in order to increase the crops from limited area of land they started to grow vines on pergolas. The apperance of British interrupted this golden age. Fortunately the experiment with cotton did not last long. At the turn of 20th century the demand for cotton was over. At that time first vineyards that are there until today started to appear.
Going to Malta we planned to get to know local wines close but we didnt expect finding first vine crops after driving just few kilometers. First impression – how small all that is. Next days, driving around the island we kept on seeing small vineyards all the time. Malta has very good conditions to grow vines but are those little vineyards able to supply ingredients to produce 70 000 hl of wine each year? Of course not. Most of Maltese wines are produced of vines imported from Italy. We were not really surprised, as the same they do in another similar size country, Liechtenstein, importing ingredient from Austria (more about Liechtenstein wineries here).
Current area of the vineyards on Malta and Gozo is around 500 ha. All the production is made by 5 major wine companies, only two of which have history longer than several years. The oldest are Delicata, established in 1907 and Marsovin founded in 1917. The others: Camilleri Wines, Montekristo and Meridiana were opened only at the end of 20th century. As we wanted to let Ola play on the beach as long as she wanted we did’t visit all of them. Marsovin seemed to be the most interesting because, unlike Delicata, they make wines from produce of Malta and Gozo, they use indigenous grape varieties and have their cellars open for visitors.
We directed to our steps to Paolo, where the headquarters of the company is. The factory complex is quite big but the tourists get to visit only a part of it. First we got to see the museum of former wine making techniques and the history of Marsovin. Narrow and winding stairs lead to the cellars built in 17th century, in the times winery art heyday. The builders and first users of cellars were Joannites. Today 10 000 of bottles and hundreds of oak barrels are storred there. Surely these are not the cellars of Moldovan Cricova but on such a small island everything seems to be bigger and more impressive.
In the first room from behind the bars we saw the library of wines, the collection of all kinds and vintages of wines since the beginning of company history. The conditions underground seem to be perfect for wines storing. Next we passed the exhibition of instruments used for wine making and bottling the drink of gods. Walls are decorated with elements reminding the history of the place. Main objects of the exhibition are barrels, although they are full it was hard to believe our guide that they contain their best wines. Hundreds of tourists, noise, changes of light are not the best conditons for good wine maturation. The part of the exhibition shows production process of “Maltese champagne”. Marsovin is proud of their sparkling wine Cassar de Malte, produced of chardonnay grapes. The production process itself is identical to the method of French champagnes manufacturing.
The most interesting was still to come – after seeing the museum we went to another room for wine tasting. In that place we were observed by the statue of Chevalier Anthonym Cassara, a man who in 1918 gave up the cultivation of oranges and started to grow vines giving birth to Marsovin. Today it is only history because, as our guide said, family of founder does not even visit the place. The tasting itself disappointed us a little, as we later found out that wines we were offered to taste were of Marsovin cheapest ones. Apart from the quality of wines, the presentation was more like a direct sales than interesting story about wines. Surely it works for participants of tours visiting factory willingly and frequently. We were not satisfied with this as we were looking forward to trying some wines of indigenous Maltese varieties.
Thankfuly in the liquor stores in Malta some interesting wines are to be found. The same evening we tried, made of indigenous ġellewża variety, 1918 Red wine, D.O.K. from 2010. We liked this one, it had deep red color, intense fruity aromas with some chocolate flavours, very drinkable, delicate. Choosing your wine it is worth to pay attention to Maltese wine certificates, inspired by Italian ones. I.G.T designation says that wine was made of local grapes. D.O.K certificate testifies that traditional methods were used for vines growing, fruit harvesting and wine production. As for the quality I.G.T wines are between table wines and those of D.O.K. However this is not a strict rule, sometimes products not meeting the regional requirements can be of really good quality.
During our stay in Malta we also tried La Torre from Marsovin, white wine made of second indigenous Maltese variety – girgentina. This is a type with light flourish aroma, refreshing, seems to be perfect for hot Maltese climate. In the factory shop we also bought Ulysses, wine made of French shiraz grapes, hand-picked in family vineyards on Gozo. Red wine, although it was quite heavy, we really liked it.
Tasting of other wineries products was much worse. Table wines of Delicata, although couple euro cheaper, are according to our taste a worse choice. Finally we gave up visiting Delicata when we found out that they do not have any vineyards in Malta. Another local winery, Meridiana, produces only wines of international varieties.
Our last meeitng with Maltese wines was in a duty-free shop at the airport but we found out that prices in liquor stores in Valletta were much better than here. So if you are going to Malta remember to enjoy the wines on the island.