There is something awesome about well-made red Ġellewża, that rare grape variety native to Malta, the tiniest wine producing country in the world located in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea.
For long many a doubting Thomas thought it couldn’t be done. Many Maltese of the older generation still do of course. But, because they remember the rustic wines made by a co-operative and some other ill-equipped winemakers who cared no more than the growers if the grapes were ripe or not, the tanks dirty and the results undrinkable.
Not now. Prejudice and carelessness are being replaced by the enthusiasm of today’s wine conogscenti and the next generation of Maltese winemakers like Matthew Delicata who is on a quest to produce an exceptional red mono-varietal from Ġellewża, or what he half-jokingly calls ‘Pinot Noir of Malta’.
Judging by a taste of an experimental tank sample of the 2013 vintage, he is on the right track. The Delicata winery’s long commitment to the variety is paying off. The garnet coloured wine has supple tannins. It all adds up to a harmonious tapestry of smell-touch-taste and for once without that brisk, unpleasant earthy astringency that before impaired red Ġellewża most of the time.
What is the secret ingredient? I have been told it is the power of persuasion, to be gently applied so as to convince farmers to produce Ġellewża fruit of impeccable quality to begin with.
Traditionally farmers would make sure to have their grapes picked before the feast of Victory Day on 8th September regardless of grape maturity. However, Ġellewża, as well as Malta’s other native, white variety Girgentina, is naturally well-adapted to the Maltese climate needing a longer ripening period to produce sweet enough wine grapes.
Grape growers are now encouraged to prolong hang-times by 7 to 12 days. The result is higher natural sugar levels with wines now reaching 11% to 12 % alcohol with generally no longer any need to chaptalise wines. Besides, better quality fruit is also obtained by trying to change old make-shift cultivation habits. Farmers are told to delay winter pruning, discard weak stems and pay attention to effective canopy management to compensate for a short diurnal range.
Now that all wineries but Meridiana are using them for quality wine production, the G-force of Ġellewża and Girgentina shows up on more labels than ever before.
Delicata and Marsovin both use Girgentina in several white wines of theirs. They also make rosés from Ġellewża and, like several other smaller wineries, both companies blend it with other international varieties. But, Ġellewża has hardly ever seriously been marketed on its own as a dry red wine, though.
And, yet there are more good reasons than ever before to do so.
Clearly the tidal wave of the usual international varieties is abating and the consumer market made up of many curious foreign visitors favours interesting well-made wines from unusual grape varieties that even Viniana Jones finds hard to discover.
With Ġellewża, Delicata and the rest of Malta have a story to tell; a story of wines made from indigenous grapes from Phylloxera resistant bush vines of indeterminate age – probably 35-50 years – grown in small parcels, often dry-farmed and probably largely organic by default.
Red Ġellewża is unique, simply Ġellewesome!
Tasting Note (15.4.2014 G.M.)
Delicata, Ġellewża – tank sample, 2013, 12% Vol.
style: dry, red wine
Georges’ Score: B-1 Ġeez
This clean expression of Malta’s indigenous red grape variety is garnet in colour. It is vinified in stainless steel tank. The fresh nose reminds of boiled candy and the scent of violets. It’s light but not really featherweight, with plum and cherry fruit flavours on a gentle palate. There’s an intriguing little streak of black treacle in the finish. Served slightly chilled it would make a wonderfully uncomplicated red to enjoy in spring and summer. It’s a fun wine – just like Beaujolais should be, one that might benefit from a whisper of oak – like most red Burgundy does.