wines of malta – 2013 vintage update


A Classic Courageous Vintage

“Classic and Courageous” are the two C-words that encapsulate the Maltese 2013 vintage best. It was a typical grape harvest in quantity terms following a normal growing season – until the rain set in. Ultimately, however, the winemaker courageous enough to deal with September showers would get rewarded. The prize?  Expressive pulp fruit and wines of exceptional colour and flavour.

A Classic Growing Season

In Malta, benign weather conditions resulted in very different wines than those of other less fortunate Mediterranean wine regions like, for example, southern Italy and the Provence.

After all, the Maltese 2013 harvest didn’t experience any intense heat or high humidity causing significant threats from powdery or downy mildew and coulure. On the contrary, in Malta and Gozo there were no real peculiarities to harm the quantity or quality of the Maltese grape harvest.

In the first quarter of the year, wind was the predominant meteorological factor for the Maltese Islands. Winter was relatively mild again with a welcomed cool spell around mid March.

Spring was warm with near ideal conditions apart from relatively drier conditions during the stage of pollination. Together with windier conditions during May this may have have been the reason for slightly modest yields for certain grape varieties.

The climatic conditions of late June caused early optimism, especially the warm days which were offset by cooler nights and light winds which ward off fungal diseases and promote slow phenolic maturity in red wine grapes. As hoped for, summer continued to be ideal with no heat waves during the bright and sunny months of July and August.

The 2013 growing season began early, with a warm and dry spring, and the weather stayed absolutely beautiful all the way through a classic harvest that commenced as usual as early as the first week of August but lasted somewhat longer than expected perhaps.

Nhar il-Vitorja

Although September was drier on average, Malta was covered by a massive cloud layer in its first week. The Islands were hit by five days of thunderstorms in September on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 16th with some significant precipitation.

The bulk of international white grape varieties had been picked ahead of the rainfall. However, the indigenous white Girgentina and red Ġellewża varieties as well as considerable amounts of other black grape varieties were not yet in tank.

After months of incessant labour in the vineyards and a lengthy unhurried growing season, crunch time was here. Winemakers had to choose how to : quickly bring in the fruit still left on the vine or courageously prolong hang-time to avoid ending up with diluted pulp fruit with relatively lower natural sugar levels. Finally, after a few nail-biting days for those waiting it out, the pressing stage came to an end around 20th September.

Made with Courage

2013 provided plenty of gorgeous grapes for potentially outstanding white wines from Vermentino, picked towards the middle of the harvest, and earlier ripening Sauvignon Blanc. Chardonnays, too, were once again expected to be full-flavoured with ripe apple and pear characteristics and good length. In fact, the initial high anticipation is more than met judging by the delicious taste of the bottled wines.

Again, this is also an excellent year for rosés which are delicate and extremely flowery. Look out for pink wines made from timely-picked Syrah more so than perhaps from Grenache and Ġellewża this year.

Maltese vintages are fairly consistent and don’t require wine lovers to have to consult an annoying vintage chart. The red wines from 2013, too, shall be very likeable when they become available, some with modest alcohol levels but offering more red fruit flavours and sweeter tannin than in recent years. They should be kept within easy reach, ready to drink when you are.

Different wineries deployed different harvest strategies when confronted with the downpours in September. Interestingly, more than the constant work in the vineyard, it will be the winemaker’s call when to pick which will leave a mark on the quality of some of the 2013 reds.

More than usual for some, the arrival of Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc was the epitome of this Maltese vintage, putting an end to the question if the rain delay  would pay or punish. Fortunately, the quality of late-harvested Cabernet crops brought happy smiles on their brave faces. And, good deep colour in these garnet red wines will be a consumer’s telltale of exceptional wines made by a courageously patient winemaker. Cleverly crafted Sangiovese is another must-try varietal of this vintage.

Industry News

As nearly every year, official figures about the harvest remained unpublished and thus there might be some conjecture about the size of the crop. However, it is safe to say that 2013 weighted in as an average vintage with yields well in check.

Press announcements about the harvest, too, were far and few between as the media turned their attention to the long-expected news of the merger of wine-producing beverage companies Marsovin and Master Group. Both formerly known as two separately privately owned entities were officially rechristened in July as one sole trading concern named CassarCamilleri Ltd.

Consequently, at the advent of the 2013 crush, the Maltese wine industry did get reorganised. It has actually verged into a dichotomous competitive model with Delicata remaining the single most important family-owned winery of Malta.

Be that as it may,  headline or footnote to the 2013 harvest, overall the wines are of very good quality. Consumers will be the big winners once again whilst the quality and the value that Maltese wines offer may help the Lilliputian Maltese wine industry take back share from imports.

© Georges Meekers – March 2014

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