Many wine countries and regions are known for a particular grape variety or wine which conveniently serves as its vinous signature, luring customers to the wider national wine category on overcrowded retail shelves.
Classic examples are champagne from France, Riesling from Germany, Pinot Grigio from Italy, Rioja from Spain. More recently, other portmanteau varieties have emerged, too, such as Australian Shiraz, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Argentinean Malbec.
But what is Malta’s signature wine?
Many varieties have been poised. In earlier days, some were quick to single out Syrah as the up-and-comer. It’s true that the better examples are elegant, classy and taste pleasantly akin to Rhône reds rather than bolder New World examples. But isn’t local Merlot more intriguing? Well-made Maltese Merlot has undeniably a delicious and special quality. Then again, how about Sangiovese of Malta or maybe you favour Carignan and Grenache often found together in blends? All can be scrumptious too.
These newly-planted grape varieties have come to notice only recently thanks to the viticultural revival in Malta. We knew about Cabernet, certainly – reds carrying a fruity essence, at times fragrant of pencil shavings, once almost prescriptively uncorked as Malta’s finest wine reserved for Sunday drinking. Unless the menu required a white wine of course; in which case a buttery Chardonnay would have been the most likely match. But that was all.
Now it’s different. There are many other enjoyable Maltese wines made from a wide range of other grape varieties popping up, and very good many of them are, too. Viognier, Vermentino, Zibibbo and Sauvignon Blanc, all destined for the production of white wine, are also making their mark.
There’s a selection of about a dozen of varieties demonstrating some of the most distinctive flavours and some of the most inspired winemaking the Maltese islands have ever seen. It’s a mixed bag of new international cultivars grown here since the 1990s and traditional indigenous Maltese vines.
Evidently, as the Delicata winery has been advocating for long, with the two native varieties, Girgentina and Ġellewża, Malta has a unique story to tell. Especially Ġellewża, Delicata’s latest red wine speciality released under the Medina brand, might gain fame as ‘the Pinot Noir of Malta’ for its similar nose of violets and broad palate of plum and cherry fruit flavours with an intriguing touch of liquorish.
The point is that Maltese wine has transformed itself and it’s poised on the brink of success, not with one grape variety but a score of them. Testimony to the fact is the international palmares of Delicata, Malta’s most awarded winery. It shows it isn’t one single wine in particular that is gaining recognition. Several different ones are receiving critical acclaim from wine judges overseas.
So astonishing about Malta is that for its small size, there are probably more wines of individuality than one finds elsewhere. Carrying on with the same yardstick, the Delicata winery alone manages to produce a selection of over 30 different Malta-grown wines in various styles to cater for the very varied preferences of appreciative foreign visitors and quality-conscious drinkers.
Not too long ago people had never heard of these grape varieties at all. Now they are happily drinking and recommending them.
Instead of just that one wine which could be signed off as Malta’s vinous mark on the world map of wine, Malta offers a whole lengthy and assorted flight of commended labels. Precisely this is Malta’s uniqueness and pulling power: a spectrum of grape and wine flavours which are ready for prime time. Our signature is drawn in rainbow colours of wines crafted in small quantities hard to prise away from the islands so varied the established Old and New World regions can’t or won’t do.
This article first appeared in The Times of Malta, Friday 6 November 2015