Josef Bonello has just been appointed by the Malta Tourist Authority as the first ambassador for one of the world’s smallest wine-producing nations.

The oldest Maltese winery, Delicata, was founded by a GP in 1907 and is now in its fourth generation based at the winery on the waterfront at Valetta Harbor, produces seven brands and thirty individual wines made from locally grown grapes in quantities smaller than the first growth Bordeaux bottlings. 

The best include Girgentina Frizzante, Medina Chardonnay Girgentina, Medina Vermentino Zibibbo, Medina Gellewza, Victoria Heights Shiraz Rose, Grand Cavalier Merlot and Grand Vin de Hauteville Viognier. 

Says Delicata’s Georges Meekers, author of “Wines of Malta”: “Novices are often surprised by their first sip of Girgentina. Malta’s prominent white wine grape could not be more different. Girgentina has an intricate appeal with lemon blossom and other subtle citrus perfumes interlaced with fruity tangs of green Granny Smith apple and crunchy Bambinella pear.

“Medina Gellewza is garnet in color and vinified in stainless steel tanks. The fresh nose reminds me of boiled candy and the scent of violets. There’s an intriguing little streak of black treacle in the finish. Served slightly chilled it makes a wonderful red to enjoy in the spring and summer”.

“Vermentino is variously called Pigato, Favorita, Rolle, and Malvoisie de Corse. We use it in ourgrown Medina Vermentino Zibibbo cuvée and Pjazza Reġina The area planted with Viognier amounts to a surface area of barely eight football fields, or less than seven hectares. I also recommend Malta’s award-winning winemaker Matthew Delicata’s top-of-the-line Grand Vin de Hauteville label.”

Malta Wines
Jeremy Cassar, CEO Marsovin

The wines were sold from carts and directly from wooden barrels by either the pinta (pint) or a terz (a third of a pint). One pint cost a half penny. The bottling of wine in Malta only began after World War II, before that wine was sold ‘loose’ or in bulk.  in the mid-1950s Lachryma Vitis, Malta’s oldest wine brand. But most plantings came in the 1990s.

Wine production in the Maltese islands preceded the Roman domination of the Mediterranean and can be traced to the Phoenician/Punic period. Being more exposed to cool north-westerly and westerly winds, Gozo has a more temperate climate than Malta. This is an advantage, especially for red wines. The soil in Gozo has a loamy character. The aging time required in oak barriques can be months, not years. The Ta’ Mena winery, owned by the Spiteri family produces 150,000 bottles of wine every year. 

On Malta, the Meridiana Wine Estate was established in 1987 by Mark Miceli Farrugia under the counsel of enologist Roger Aquilina who was tasked to produce “World-Class Wines of Maltese Character”. The name Meridiana and the estate’s sundial insignia are inspired by Malta’s Southern European location. 

Isis Malta Wines
Isis Chardonnay Meridiana Wines. Photo courtesy of the brand

In 1989, a 19-hectare (47-acre) site was acquired at Ta’ Qali, reclaimed from a Second World War airfield below the ancient, walled city of Mdina. In 1992, Marchese Piero Antinori invested in the vineyards and helped Mark set up the estate.

Nexus Malta Wines
Nexus Merlot Meridiana Wines. Photo courtesy of the brand

Antinori descends from one of the oldest established winemaking families in the world. Giovanni di Piero Antinori joined the Winemakers Guild of Florence in 1385. The  Estate was planted in 1994 and 1995 with Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah and a charming winery building made of local, pale limestone was inaugurated in 1997  The winery produces approximately 140,000 bottles yearly and the current portfolio includes eleven labels – three whites, a rose, a dessert wine, and six reds. All are DOK Malta. The winemaker is Martino Amato. Says estate manager Karl Chetcuti; “ If I had to recommend our best, I would go for Astarte (Vermentino) and Isis (Chardonnay) as whites, and Nexus (our beautiful Merlot) for the reds. Our Vermentino grapes come from vineyards situated close to the sea giving it a lovely salty note and a real taste of Malta, and our Isis which is made from estate-grown Chardonnay which is completely un-oaked to complement our warm climate.

“For our red wines, we only use French oak barrique. Nexus ages for ten months. We always prefer elegance over power.”

Marsovin Winery
The Marsovin Cellars. Photo courtesy of the brand

On the island of Gozo, Ta’ Mena Estate is a hidden gem, offering not just wine experiences but also a glimpse into the local food culture with Gozitan platter featuring local specialties like sweet sundried tomato paste, olives,  peppered cheeselets, smoked sausages, and seasonal delicacies.

Established in 1919 by Chevalier Anthony Cassar, Marsovin Winery is managed by the founder’s great-grandson, CEO Jeremy Cassar. The wine cellars date to the Order of the Knights of Saint John.  

Established in 1919, Marsovin is the largest producer of quality wine on the island, the only winery with five privately owned estates and the only winery producing a Methode Traditionelle, and unique wines such as Primus and Guze Passito.

Although its wine pairs well with most, it’s an excellent wine to accompany a traditional Maltese rabbit dish would be the 1919 Gellewza which is made using the indigenous Maltese grape Gellewza, and Merlot.  This is a complex, full-bodied red wine with intense ripe fruit aromas of forest berries, amarena cherries, and figs underlined by distinct notes of peppery, sweet spice, and a hint of fresh tobacco. On the palate. it is very smooth with plenty of ripe, velvety tannins and a very pleasant, long lingering finish.”

Ta’ Betta Wine Estates in Siġġiewi, was established by Cambridge University graduates, Juanito and Astrid Camilleri who have been guided by winemaker Vincenzo Melia. Try the  Jean Parisot Chardonnay. Each wine is inspired by Knight Grandmasters of the Order of St. John such as the Philippe Villiers blend.  Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon Antonio Manoel blend.