Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Few and Far Between - Wines from Malta

I had no experience with wines from Malta until earlier this fall. I knew wine had a long and storied history on this rocky, limestone-encrusted island in the southern Mediterranean, but I never had the opportunity to buy or taste one before. The wines aren’t made in large quantities, and most of them are consumed by the Maltese or tourists who flock to the island. There is very little wine exported, and none to the United States.

Located south of Sicily and east of Tunisia, this island is an independent island (although so many countries, occupying armies and empires have claimed this rock over millennia), with a complex culture and history.

But, as far as wine regions go, the wines are (relatively) easy to grasp. Malta is home to just five wineries: Marsovin, Emmanuel Delicata, Camilleri Wines, Montekristo and Meridiana. The oldest (Delicata and Marsovin) date back to the early 1900s, but winegrowing began seeing a renewed interest in the late 20th and early 21st Century. Still, this is a small island, with only 2,000 acres planted to wine grapes (when combined with its sister island, Gozo).

Until the 1990s, Maltese winemakers worked with indigenous varieties like Gellewza and Girgentina, vitis vinifera varieties whose exact origins are shrouded in mystery. It’s possible these grapes were brought to the island by Phoenicians, who began cultivating vines on Malta 2,000 years ago, but so far nobody knows for sure.

In recent decades, foreign investment and a desire to expand the region’s wine reputation led to the planting of popular international varieties like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. This is a hot, sun-baked island, and the wines show it with ripe flavors. But the wines also seem to boast a good amount of nuance, freshness, and lots of spicy, earthy flavors.

Two good friends of mine recently traveled to Malta, and brought back a case of wine with them. That’s the only reason I was able to get my palate on some of these rare wines, and I was excited to do so. They cooked a delicious Malta-inspired meal of charcuterie, squid ink-pasta, peppered steak. The food was fantastic and the wines were delicious and interesting.

I tasted wines from Meridiana and Marvosin, and my notes are pasted below. 

2016 Meridiana Fenici - Malta, DOK Malta Superiore
On the nose, I get flowers and pineapple along with wax and almonds. Crisp and bright on the palate but shows interesting waxy/rich textural elements. I get lemon, apricot, matched with floral perfume, sea salt, chalky/mineral notes. Fun stuff, this went really good with grilled veggies and a crème fraiche dip. A blend of Chardonnay, Vermentino and Viognier. (87 points)

2015 Marsovin Antonin - Malta, DOK Malta Superiore
This wine was really cool – it smells like spicy herbs, tar, red and black currants, along with menthol and leather, really fun to sniff. Not dense, shows fresh tannins, moderate acidity. Lots of red and black currants, laced with spicy herbs, rhubarb, anise, leather, and there’s a lovely earthy, mineral component underneath. Wonderful pairing with some squid ink pasta. (89 points)

2014 Meridiana Melquart - Malta, DOK Malta Superiore
Tangy, peppery, currant paste on the nose. Juicy currants and plums on the palate with a solid tannic grip, medium-low acidity. Savory herbs, earth, roasted chestnut, lots going on here. This paired wonderfully with a tomahawk steak. (88 points)

2014 Meridiana Syrah Bel - Malta, DOK Malta
These aromas pop with savory broth, clove, sage, cracked pepper, on top of blackberries and dark plums. Plump texture but serious tannic backbone. Plums and currants topped with sage, pepper, clove. Dark but not heavy. (88 points)

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