At the midpoint of the Mediterranean Sea, about 50 miles (80km) south of Sicily, is Malta, a small island deep in history.
Malta has a robust domestic market compared to an international market. Therefore, finding the wines of Malta anywhere else besides Malta might be challenging.
The island is a trendy tourist destination, which means local wineries import grapes from Italy for vinification. Thus, the island can satisfy the seasonal and tourist demand for wine.
A handful of wine producers make most of the wine in Malta, mainly owned by Italian and French companies. Two winemaking giants on the island are Marsovin and Delicata, with Meridiana Wine Estate as a close third.
Gozo, a neighboring island about 4 miles (6km) northeast, had discovered ancient relics, such as grape presses. They date back to 500 BC.
The discovery of the relics gives wine historians a rough idea of how long winemaking occurred in the area. Malta still produces wine with a handful of wineries within approximately 1976 acres (800 hectares) of vineyards.
History of Malta
Growing grape vines and making wine dates back to the Golden Age, the early 16th century. At this time, the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem started centuries of winemaking in Malta.
Before the Knights of Saint John, the Phoenicians might have planted the first vines on the island around 800 BC. The Greeks and Romans followed, but the Arab rule made it very difficult to produce wine during the Middle Ages until the Knights arrived.
Around the beginning of the 19th century, British military and merchant ships arrived, leading to the decline of wine production on the island. They uprooted the island’s olive groves and vines and replaced them with the cotton crop, a highly valued commodity at the time.
After about a hundred years, the island favored wine production once again. Cotton production in the US took off, reducing the value of cotton in Malta.
However, the island grew mainly table grapes and continued to flourish even though the phylloxera arrived. The sap-sucking insect not only feeds on the grapevine roots but destroys them. In 1860, the infestation swept through Europe.
Commercial wineries settled in Malta around the beginning of the 20th century. Eventually, the vineyards planted the international grape varieties in the 1970s.
In 1919, Anthony “Tonin” Cassar founded Marsovin, which grew to become the largest winery in Malta. The vineyard is still in the family, helmed by his great-grandson Jeremy Cassar with the estate producing two million bottles annually.
The main cellar is not far from Valletta’s port, with many production sites and aging cellars around the island. Visitors to the winery need to sip the Primus as an excellent example of their in-depth tasting creations. Primus is a sophisticated blend of Syrah and Gellewza.
Delicata, established in 1907, produces 1.2 million bottles annually, working with many small winegrowers. Working with other vineyards enables diversity with a wide range of wines, around 50 different kinds.
Nestled between the west of Valetta and south of Mdina is Ta’ Betta. Here, they grow their vines on terraces on elevated land, with a slightly milder temperature than the coast. The vineyard organized each row along the north-south axis, protecting the grapes from the sun to harness the sea winds.
The Jean Parisot Vintage will delight your palate with white fig, apricot, and vanilla notes. Such a find sipping experience verifies that Chardonnay grapes can acclimate to high temperatures.
Terroir and Climate
As evidence of the location, Malta’s climate is the Mediterranean, with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Such a weather pattern allowed for an abundant yield when the vineyards received the proper management.
Still, irrigation is imperative to harness the summer sunshine, similarly to Sicily, just north. Malta stands out with Crete, Cyprus, and Pantelleria as most of Europe’s southern wine regions.
Malta’s small wine production focuses on red wines from Syrah, Grenache, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Red varieties grow well on the island’s south side, where the soil is clay-based.
The whites rely on Chardonnay and the island’s main native grape, Girgentina, the island’s main native grape. Cassar de Malta is a long-established sparkling wine produced with the native Gellewza grape.
In 2007, the Maltese government put into effect a Protected Designation of Origin, giving credibility to the origin of its wine.
With that, there are three appellations relating to Malta: DOK Malta for wine from the mainland, DOK Gozo for wine from the neighboring island, and the wide-ranging IGT Maltese Islands that combine Malta and Gozo.
Wine Industry Today
A trip to Malta allows wine enthusiasts to experience a unique, dynamic wine industry. At the same time, visitors can connect to an extended history of winemaking.
Many places in Malta offer samples of local wine with several wine bars. In Valletta, Trabuxu is an ideal location where you can learn about the different wines from Malta.
Some restaurants on the island offer local wines, such as De Mondion and Sommelier Nico Caruana.
The Top Wines of Malta
- Marsovin Grand Maitre – Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon
- Meridiana Wine Estate “ISIS” – Chardonnay
- Marsovin 1919 Red – Gellewza
- Marsovin Primus – Rare Red Blend
- Emmanuel Delicata Gran Cavalier Merlot, Malta DOK – Merlot
- Emmanuel Delicata Gran Cavalier Syrah, Malta DOK – Syrah
- Meridiana Wine Estate “Nexus” Superior Melot, Malta DOK – Merlot
Coming from one of these most prestigious wineries in Malta, Marsovin Grand Maitre continues to grow in popularity as one of the many most desired wines from the island.
Produced by Marsovin, the red wine is one of the most expensive wines in Malta, made from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. According to Wine Spectator, the price keeps rising, with vintages ranging from $68.00 to $164.00.
The Grand Maitre has oaky notes of tobacco and chocolate, with black fruit, bramble, and blackberry. There are hints of red fruit and cherries with pepper and juniper berry. The earthly finish consists of leather and smoke with a creamy afterthought.
The 2015 vintage rates are better than the others, while 2006 is in the top 5 percent of wines worldwide
Even though the price of this wine has remained stable over the past few years, ISIS holds the position of one of the most expensive wines in Malta.
It appears the wine is hard to find, with more and more wine lovers hoping to find a favorite vintage. Of late, only 2019 and 2020 seem to be available. Luckily, the 2020 vintage rates are better than any other year, though 2017 is popular according to Vivino users.
Meridiana Wine Estate is a small winery producing about 140,000 bottles of quality wine annually. Its vineyard is approximately 50 acres or 19 hectares on a reclaimed airfield used in WW II.
Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grow here with a smaller vineyard that produces Vermentino.
ISIS is one of the most famous wines of the estate, produced by winemaker Martino Amato
Marsovin brings us the highest-priced Gellewza wine in Malta, though the overall price has stabilized. The wine has become more popular, ranking seventh as the most desired wine.
However, it’s hard to find a bottle of 2019 Red in Europe since it’s only in very few stores with only 2008 and 2021 vintages available.
Marsovin harvests the Gellewza and then lays them down to dry in the sunshine for many days. The result is a concentration of the grape sugars, color, and acidity with a limited number of bottles produced. Each bottle has a number, which increases the value of the wine, and each vintage has a unique label of an artist’s rendition.
Sip the wine, and your palate reminisces of French Pinot Noir with strawberry and cherry. A rich and lengthy wine ends in a refreshing way for a summer’s evening. You might taste walnuts, vanilla, and honey, with plum and oak.
Marsovin makes some of the best-tasting wine, with their Primus being the fourth most like wine from Malta. Its popularity keeps growing, with it being one of the highest-priced wines from the island.
The rare red blend description means the wine has unusual or rarely seen combinations or varieties of grapes, a premium blend of Shiraz and Gellewza.
The handpicked grapes reach their maturity in September, sun-dried and naturally dehydrated. Note the concentration of aromas, acids, and sugars that remain in the juice.
The wine has an intensely aromatic bouquet with a multilayer of flavors. Each year, Marsovin produces around 4,500 bottles as a limited edition.
Some have scored the Gran Cavalier as the best accessible wine from Malta, ranking second in several regional awards. The Challenge International du Vin honored the 2014 vintage with the Or, the International Wine & Spirit Competition bequeathed the bronze, and the International Wine Challenge commended the 2018 vintage.
It’s also the second highest-priced Merlot produced on the island.
Cask-aged in French barriques, Gran Cavalier tastes delicate and suggestive of the classic French style that made Bordeaux claret admired.
An excellent dusty and slightly savory Maltese mark adds finesse, earning 92/100 points from Wine Searcher.
Based on critic scores, the Gran Cavalier Syrah is the third-highest ranked Maltese wine, winning the International Wine Challenge bronze award for the 2017 and 2014 vintage. The Syrah also won the Vinalies International silver for the 2009 vintage.
Though the price of the wine has stabilized, the Gran Cavalier is the third most expensive Syrah made in Malta.
Barrel-aged in French barriques is a robust and silky wine produced from hand-picked grapes. The palate is soft, leathery, and full-bodied with gamey flavors, yet ripe with super velvety tannins, maturing for one year in the barriques.
Some say certain vintages have coconut, blackberry, and chocolate aromas, starting with oat spice and balanced acidity that’s fresh. Dusty tannins finish well with the oaky style.
Here is another most expensive wine made from Merlot grapes in Malta. Its popularity has recently increased, with only a few stores in America carrying it. Only the 2013 and 2018 vintage are on the shelves, with a 2018 bottle rating better than any other year.
The full-bodied and well-matured wine has vanilla, oak, and chocolate notes with plum and black fruit. Some have mentioned red fruit, cherry, and strawberry.
The Merlot has a heady and spicy nose with cinnamon bark and clove. The finish is light, not heavy, and goes well with ribeye, duck, pork, chicken, pasta, and hard cheese.
The winery ages the wine for ten months in the French oak barrique, and the wine then sets for eight months after bottling.
The winemaker says it has a clear, deep purple-red color. It’s intense and well-structured, with fruit flavors and soft tannins accompanied by a long finish.