In many of the established wine producing countries it is easy to join a tour or follow a wine route to find out about the locally produced wines and perhaps try some of them. What about Malta? Are there any organised wine tasting tours? Or is there a wine route?
Although wine production in Malta dates back over two thousand years from around the Roman era, it wasn’t until the 1970s that wine production became more serious and international grape varieties started to get planted. Today grape varieties grown on the Maltese islands include the two indigenous varieties Gellewza (red) and Ghirgentina (white), as well as international varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah (or Shiraz), Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Moscato and more.
The reputation of Maltese wines has not always been very positive and perhaps for good reasons. For example in fairly recent history Malta’s strategically important position in the Mediterranean made agriculture focus on self sufficiency in food supply and the majority of the grape varieties that were grown were table grapes. Hence, only grapes that did not get consumed ended up being crushed, fermented and made into wine.
Also, before Malta’s entry into the European Union there was a levy on imported wines to “protect” the Maltese wine industry. Since the levy was lifted Maltese wines have had to start competing against wines from all over the world and this has in turn forced a movement towards higher quality in wines. There are now a number of really good wines made in Malta with some having received international recognition and awards. Currently the demand for Maltese wines outstrips the supply and some of the wineries resort to using imported grapes, mainly from Sicily and mainland Italy for some of their labels.
More and more people who travel on holiday don’t want just sun and sea, but like to experience the local culture. One way to find out more about wine and perhaps even food is to follow a wine route or visit a few wineries.
Some of the large tour operators organise wine tasting tours for their guests, so if you are travelling to Malta on a package tour you may be lucky and be able to sign up for a wine tasting trip as an excursion. If you are travelling independently, either alone or in a small group, visits need to be arranged by appointment with the wineries.
I have visited the major wineries in Malta to find out what is currently available here. There are five major wine producers: Emmanuel Delicata, Marsovin, Camilleri Wines, Montekristo and Meridiana, all of whom offer some form of wine tasting or cellar tour. If you are a real enthusiast why not make a day or two of it?
At Malta’s oldest wine producer, Emmanuel Delicata, tours can be arranged by appointment for groups of twelve people or more. Tours can be customized but normally cover a historic overview of wine production at this wine producer, which was established in 1907. Then there may be a cellar tour and a wine tasting in the historic tasting vaults, which are located underground at their site at Paola Waterfront. A number of Emmanuel Delicata’s wines are entered in international wine competitions every year and many win awards. For example this year their Grand Cavalier Chardonnay 2006 won a bronze medal in the “Chardonnay du Monde” competition in Burgundy.
If you do not visit the winery, another chance to taste Delicata’s range of wines would be to visit the four day Wine Festival in Valletta (7 – 10 August 2008) or in Nadur, Gozo (22 – 24 August 2008), organized by Delicata.
A few roads away from Emmanuel Delicata, just off Paola Hill, is Marsovin, which was established in 1919. Here the tour starts off with a historic introduction and an explanation of the wine making process. Visitors are then guided through to the cellars, where the red wines are maturing in over 200 French and American oak barriques. Also in these cellars, “Cassar de Malte”, the sparkling wine of Malta, is made using the same method as Champagne – Methode Traditionelle. Guests will then be taken to the tasting area to sample a selection of Marsovin’s wines served with a variety of finger foods. There is also a shop where Marsovin’s wines can be purchased.
In Hal Farrug, in the limits of Siggiewi, and not too far from Luqa airport, is one of Malta’s newest wineries – Montekristo Estate. The centre piece of this 20 acre country estate is the “Chateau”, which is surrounded by a newly equipped winery and vineyards. Underground there are large purpose built vaults and the wine storage areas are temperature and humidity controlled. The site is currently under construction and not fully open, but there are banqueting and conference areas which are available to hire. Once fully open (planned for October 2008), Montekristo are aiming to provide winery tours and tastings at this beautiful location.
Further inland in the town of Naxxar is the young and dynamic Camilleri Wines (part of master group). The company started in 2000 and their first wine made of Maltese grapes was launched in 2004. Camilleri Wines now produce twenty one wines under seven different labels. Adjacent to their winery in Naxxar is Master Cellars, the retail store of master group, where Camilleri wines are available together with a large range of international wine and spirits. Tutored wine tastings for small groups can be arranged and are normally held in the custom made tasting area within the shop. If you come for a tasting here perhaps you can get a chance to taste Malta’s only Viognier, from the Palatino range. For larger groups other venues can be arranged, as well as a visit to one of their managed vineyards.
A short drive from Naxxar towards the national stadium in Ta’ Qali is Meridiana Wine Estate. The purpose built limestone winery and administration building is surrounded by Meridiana’s vineyards. Tours and tastings are normally conducted by Meridiana’s enthusiastic wine maker Roger Aquilliera. The visitor to Meridiana will first be given a talk about the history of the company followed by a tour of the winery. Then, there will be a tutored tasting of a few of the hand crafted wines. accompanied by nibbles. For larger groups the picturesque inner court can be hired for wine tastings or other events. At Meridiana there is a real passion about Maltese wines and their mission is to produce “World class wines of Maltese character”. This is perfectly reflected in the wines produced at this boutique style winery.
In conclusion, to take a closer look at the Maltese wine industry you will have to rely on your organisational skills to make up your own wine tasting tour, as there is not an official “wine route”. However, at the Institute of Tourism Studies (ITS) they have identified a need to provide information to the independent traveller in a project they call Relational Tourism. They are hoping to have an area within the ITS website up and running by the summer of 2008 where wine and viticulture has been identified as one of six areas of cultural interest. All the Maltese wine producers have been involved and welcome the project, and as Dr Albert Caruana, General Manager of Monekristo Estate, puts it: “If we all work together everyone would reap the benefits – locals, tourists and visitors, and all the Maltese producers.”
One advantage with Malta being a small country is that it is a relatively short journey between the wineries and vineyards and a couple of visits could easily be fitted in during the course of a day. Maybe plan to stop for lunch in between?
Margareta Zaveri is the founder of the online guide to where and what to eat and drink in Malta: http://www.maltafoodandwine.com