The Wines of Malta

The Maltese archipelago (consisting of Malta and the smaller islands of Gozo and Comino) lies about 60 miles from Sicily and 180 miles from the north coast of Africa.  The main island of Malta is about 17 miles long and 9 miles wide, while the smaller island of Gozo is just 9 miles by 5 miles.  The total area of theisalnds is about 122 square miles.  Winemaking on Malta dates back at least to the Roman period (the Romans conquered the Maltese Islands at the start of the Second Punic War in 218 BC), but it seems that the ‘modern’ industry was founded in 1530 when the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, gave Malta to the Order of St John of Jerusalem. 

But by the 19th and 20th centuries most of the wine consumed on the islands was imported, and it was only in the 1970s that winemaking began again in earnest.  There are now a few hundred farmers, usually with very small vineyards (the average size of a vineyard on Malta is 4000 m²) supplying five main producers: three large ones and two smaller.  In total, around 320 hectares (just over 1% of the total area of the islands) are currently under vines, and the plantings are increasing, though some producers still import grapes from Italy.  Alongside international varieties including cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, Grenache, chardonnay etc, there are two native varieties in cultivation: gellewza and gergentina.

Malta does not have any mountains, lakes, rivers or forest, and the climate is hot, without any biting winds, with rain only falling for short periods.  Cool sea breezes help temper the hot summer period.

The biggest change in recent years came with Malta’s accession to the EU in 2004.  Previously, the Maltese wine industry had been somewhat protected by a hefty duty on imported wine, but the free market required by Brussels has meant that imported wine has become much cheaper and more attractive.  What had been a 10 million bottle market pre-2004 (of which the homegrown Maltese wines had a 90% share) is now a 12 million bottle market, but the Maltese share has shrunk down to just 6.5 to 7 million bottles a year.  The Maltese producers are, therefore, looking to grow their export market which in part explains why three of the major producers were exhibiting at the London International Wine Fair in 2008, where I was able to taste a range of their wines. 

The other major change brought about by joining the EU was the need to introduce a quality designation system: the Maltese D.O.K. system (Denominazzjoni ta' Origini Kontrollatta) draws heavily on the Italian DOC and DOCG system, apparently with all its flaws.  (For more on this, see  There are two DOK regions: DOK Malta and DOK Gozo.  DOK wines can be chaptalised to increase alcohol by up to 1% by volume, whereas the category of DOK Superiore can be used on wines that have not been chaptalised and have a minimum alcohol of 12% for whites and rosés and 12.5% for reds.  In addition there are, as in Italy, IGT wines (Indikazzjoni Geografika Tipika), or rather specifically IGT Maltese Islands.  The IGT wines can be made from a blend of Maltese and Gozitan (i.e. from Gozo) grapes.

The following wines were tasted in May 2008.

Camilleri Wines
Camilleri Wines was established in 2000/2001 when it took over the business of the former Master wine Ltd, which had been founded in 1947 by Joseph Camilleri, who continues today as chairman of the company.  Grapes are bought in from 250 farmers all over Malta, growing chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, vermentino, viognier, moscato Alexandria, cabernet sauvignon, carignan, Grenache, merlot, syrah and tempranillo, normally hand harvested.  Camilleri produce wines in seven different ranges: Laurenti (their premium range), Palatino, La Croce, Blush, Dolce Vita, Pianoforte and GWL.  Gwl was the Phoenician word for a ship and hence also the name for the island of Gozo.

2007 Palatino Vermentino, DOK Malta Superiore, Camilleri Wines, 14%
A very nice nose – buttery, creamy and a bit nutty-almondy.  Very nice palate.  Very attractive.  Clean, with a nice richness and depth.  Good finish with fairly powerful length.  91/100

2007 Sauvignon Blanc Palatino, DOK Malta Superiore, Camilleri Wines
This has a very ripe feeling nose without any great sauvignon blanc characteristics.  It’s similar on the palate, lacking much varietal character.  I wouldn’t have expected sauvignon blanc to work well in such a hot climate, and I think I was largely right.  It’s a decent enough wine, but lacks any real character.  84/100

2006 Vermentino Viognier fermented in oak, Laurenti, Camilleri Wines
A rather extracted, oaky nose that feels a bit wacky.  Interesting palate: the oak knits it together well and doesn’t dominate.  Good character.  A nice wine.  87/100

2005 Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Laurenti, Camilleri Wines
The grapes for this come from vineyards along the Laurenti Ridge in Siggiewi and the resulting wine is aged in French oak barriques for at least 12 months.  This has a sawdusty black fruits nose.  Nice open palate with good character.  This definitely has an attraction.  Softish tannins round the wine out on the finish.  87/100

2006 Blush Merlot-Syrah Rosé, Camilleri wines
A rich strawberry and cherry fruit nose.  Very nice, clean, fresh nose with a nice depth of fruit.  Very Good Indeed.  89/100

2007 GWL Gozo grown Chardonnay, Camilleri Wines, 12.5%
From vines grown on clay soils apparently.  This has a fresh melony chardonnay nose.  It’s rather ordinary on the palate, though, finishing with a curious spirity note.  There’s a rather unbalanced feel to this.  82/100

2006 GWL Gozo Grown Syrah, Camilleri Wines, 12.5%
A warm, ripe syrah nose with a touch of brett.  This is a very good, approachable, young, vibrant syrah.  Nice and easy drinking, though I don’t know that you could tell this was Maltese rather than from somewhere else.  89/100

2007 Dolce Vita Late Harvest, Camilleri Wines, 11.5%
This is a blend of sauvignon blanc and viognier, harvested 4-6 weeks later than the normal harvest.  It has a fresh, interesting nose with lots of character.  Fragrant and fairly delicate on the palate, this is not at all oversweet.  Really very pleasant.  89/100

2006 Tempranillo Palatino, DOK Malta Superiore, Camilleri Wines
Quite a slight nose – unusually for tempranillo, it feels a bit weedy, but apparently it’s harvested very early.  My first impression is that it’s tempranillo made in an old Bordeaux style: it’s much more of a leafy style than, say, Spain.  But it’s still very clearly tempranillo.  Really quite an interesting wine- completely different, but also very drinkable.  There’s some lovely black fruit on the finish and lingering after.  91/100


Emmanuel Delicata Winemaker, Malta
Emmanuel Delicata Winemaker Ltd were founded in 1907 by Eduardo Delicata and the company is still in the hands of the fourth generation of the same family today, with its base in Paola.  Delicata draw on grapes grown in more than 380 family run vineyards across Malta and Gozo, all run with the advice of Delicata.  The growers are paid on quality not quantity.

2007 Medina Girgentina & Chardonnay, IGT Maltese Islands, Delicata, 12%
This is 75% girgentina, a native Maltese variety and 25% chardonnay.  The nose has peach, melon, white chocolate and a hint of biscuits.  Fresh, clean palate, with interesting, powerful flavours, which make this quite distinctive.  An interesting wine, if a touch strange and challenging.  84/100

2007 Medina Grenache, IGT Maltese Islands, Delicata
This is made from grenache noir, but vinified as a white wine.  It has a fairly slight nose, but is quite interesting on the palate, with some unusual, very winey flavours.  Quite minerally.  Interesting.  87?/100

2007 Medina Chardonnay, DOK Malta, Delicata
Nice, fresh peach and melon fruit on the nose.  Good palate: this is a good, though not a complex chardonnay. Works well enough.  84/100

2007 Victoria Heights Shiraz Rosé, DOK Gozo, Delicata, 12.5%
A reddish pale salmon colour.  The nose has soft red fruits and is a good sort of mid range rosé nose.  Nice depth of flavour on the palate and a tingle of spice on the finish.  85/100

2007 Medina Grenache Rosé, DOK Malta, Delicata
A delicate raspberry and Vimto jelly nose.  Very interesting character on the palate.  It feels just a tiny bit off dry.  88/100

2007 Maltese Falcon Gellewza Rosé, IGT Maltese Islands, Delicata, 12%
Gellewza is one of the indigenous Maltese grapes, and makes only quite light reds. 
This has soft red fruits on the nose.  Very soft, easy palate.  A touch towards the sweet side (intentionally so, apparently).  Very Good.  87-88/100

2007 Medina Sangiovese, IGT Maltese Islands, Delicata, 12.5%
2007 was the first vintage of this wine, of which 300 cases were made.  It has ripe, red cherry fruit on the nose.  Very soft, light palate, with some black pepper spice and rich fruit.  88/100

2006 Maltese Falcon Full Bodied Red, IGT Maltese Islands, Delicata, 12.5%
This is a blend of 60% merlot, 20% syrah and 20% cabernet sauvignon.  The cabernet has been oaked.  A good nose: not over-distinguished, but it has a good black fruit character.  This is a nice blend that works well, though overall the wine is hardly over-complex.  But it’s nice easy drinking.  87/100

2006 Gran Cavalier Syrah Barrel Matured, DOK Malta, Delicata, 13%
This is aged for about twelve months in French oak.  It has a really rather funky nose, with barnyardy black fruit.  Initially there is some delicate fresh fruit on the paate, with some spicy tannins on the finish, though there’s not really much of a tannic structure before that.  Overall, it feels very Rhôney and animalistic.  Apparently 2006 was a light year for Syrah on Malta.  88/100


Marsovin, Malta
Originally founded as A&G Cassar in 1919, but renamed Marsovin in 1956, this is a family run company and one of the majory players on Malta.  As well as buying in grapes, Marsovin has a handful of its own estates, covering just under 20 ha in total: the Ramla Valley Estate on Gozo (just over 4 hectares planted with chardonnay and pinot bianco); and the rest on Malta: Cheval Franc (cabernet franc and syrah), Ghajn Rihana Estate (1.1 ha planted with cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc); Marnisi (9 ha planted with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot); and Wardija Valley Estate (1.5 ha, mainly chardonnay planted in 1999 and used for sparkling wine).  Their entry level Caravaggio wines are made from bought-in grapes.

2005 Cassar de Malta, Méthode Traditionelle Brut, Wardija Valley Estate, 12.5%
This matures on its lees for at least 12 months before its first degorgement.  It has a young, crip nose.  Light and crisp on the palate, and very clean.  Very prickly in the mouth.  There’s nothing wrong with this.  A bit simple, maybe, but very good.  86/100

2007 Chenin Blanc Caravaggio, DOK Malta Superiore, Marsovin
The nose has rich, slightly concentrated pear fruit and lanolin.  Quite a precise, clean palate, though it falls apart a little on the finish.  Great length after.  86/100

2007 Chenin Blanc-Chardonnay Ulysses, DOK Gozo, Marsovin, 13%
A crisp, clean nose, though a bit dumb, with some fresh wool and honey scents.  On the palate, this represents very nice, easy drinking: it’s a very good blend and working well.  Great balance.  89/100

2006 Chardonnay-Girgentina 1919, Marsovin
The chardonnay grapes are mainly bought in and see a touch of oak.  The first bottle of this wine that I tried had a startling mid-yellow colour, looking almost a bit oxidised.  It was also slightly corked, so on to a second bottle.  This had a slightly paler colour.  The nose is very minerally, with a touch of distilled peaches and pears.  On the palate, it’s quite rich and has a slightly honeyed feel.  It definitely feels a bit of a chardonnay in disguise.  85/100

2007 Barrel fermented Chardonnay, Antonin, Ramla Valley Estate, DOK Gozo
This is a blend of 95% chardonnay and 5% pinot blanc, half fermented in oak, half in stainless steel.
This is more creamy than buttery on the nose, with some gently spirity stone fruit.  Nicely integrated and balanced on the palate.  88+/100

2007 Moscato Caravaggio, DOK Malta, Marsovin, 12%
According to the Marsovin representative who took me through their wines, this is Muscat d’Alexandria and “The Ladies like it.”  It has a sweetish, floral Muscat nose and is pretty much the same on the palate – nothing special, but nothing wrong either.  83/100

2007 Odyssey Grenache Rosé, DOK Gozo, Marsovin, 13%
This has a gentle, sweet red fruit nose.  But it’s a bit unbalanced on the palate, with the acidity feeling a bit separate.  Not working for me.  82/100

2006 1919 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Gellewza), Marsovin
This blends 55% cabernet sauvignon and 35% shiraz with 10% of the native Maltese variety Gellewza.  This has blackcurrants and raspberries on the nose.  Quite rich and full on the palate.  Quite forward, easy drinking with good balance and character.  87/100

2006 Cheval Franc Private Estate Selection, Marsovin, 13.5%
This is made from cabernet franc, and possibly also (depending who from Marsovin you’re talking to) some shiraz.  It has a funky, herbaceous nose, reminiscent of the Rhône, with some green peppercorn spice.  It’s very smooth on the palate, and slips down easily.  There’s a hint of the farmyard on the palate, which gives it a nice character.  87-88/100

2006 Antonin Noir, Marnisi Estate, Marsaxlokk, Private Estate Selection, Marsovin, 13.5%
This is a merlot dominated Bordeaux blend from the 8.5 ha vineyard (their biggest), planted in 1994, on the Marnisi Estate in Marsaxlokk.  The wine is aged in a mix of old and new oak.  Looking at it in the glass, I thought it could have been 3-4 years older, and was told that wines from the Marnisi vineyard seem to age early.
There are herbaceous black fruits on the nose, with an umami edge.  Quite concentrated and deep in the mouth with a nice chocolatey richness.  Very Good Indeed.  91/100

2006 Marnisi Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet France, Petit Verdot, Marsovin, 13%
This has a very nice floral character on the nose: clean scents, with a bit of tobacco?  Rich and deep on the palate – feeling riper on the palate than the Antonin Noir.  89/100

2005 Grand Maitre, Marsovin, 13%
This is a blend of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon, aged in new oak for a minimum of 12 months.  The nose has rich, chocolatey blackberry and blackcurrant fruit.  There’s ripe, velvety fruit on the palate.  The oak is not over-evident, but very definitely there.  It just feels a touch overblown, but it is in a style that will appeal to many.  90/100

2006 Passito Shiraz Guze, Marsovin, 14%
This has remarkably restrained black fruits on the nose.  The first thing that strikes you in the mouth is the acidity.  Then you notice the tannins, then the sweetish black fruit.  Then they all combine in the mouth.  A very nicely balanced wine, and very interesting too.  91/100


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Last updated: 27 April 2009