Flying over Malta you can see the arid landscape, completely at odds with the vineyards of viticulture in France say, or New Zealand.
Meridiana Wine Estate, however, lies verdant in the shadow of the incredibly beautiful and unspoiled ancient capital of Malta, Mdina. This estate has harnessed the soils and climate it has been blessed with to maximum effect.
Any soil can grow grapes, it’s the varieties you choose to match the soil type that is important,” said the charismatic General Manager Karl Chetcuti.
He added that when the original backers of the Meridiana vision wanted to turn a wartime airfield into a vineyard, they were up against it, banks wouldn’t touch it at first, but as Karl explained they came around to the idea in no small part due to the persistence of its pioneer Mark Miceli-Farrugia.
This relatively fledgling producer with 19-hectares of its own vines and a dozen grape-growing local farmers pumps out 130,000/140,000 bottles of cracking wine every year.
Let’s start with the Chardonnay story. Meridian’s Isis is the most famous white wine on the islands, but after telling Karl that I’m not the grape’s biggest fan, he assured me theirs was different. Steel vat fermentation reduces that buttery, oakiness that puts so many off.
It was so light and citrusy on the nose, grapefruit and pineapple coming through in a refreshing mistral breeze of vague flint. The palate was light and delicate. I could see why this was such a big seller.
But Isis wasn’t the only goddess on offer, the Vermentino ‘Astarte’ is a sharper more back of the throat wine which, as the tasting hour went on, got better and better. Each time we went back to it the floral notes heightened and the sharpness was mollified, just gorgeous.
Rosé was next – I’m not really an authority on the pink stuff, so I won’t bother with any purple prose here, suffice to say that it would have been cracking with a curry!
Onto the two reds, Karl was eager for me to try the Fenici red, a Syrah and Merlot blend, which was heady and rich, lovely cherries and fruits of the forest with a load of black pepper, gorgeous but best of all and the knockout of the day was the 100% Merlot wine called Nexus.
Yes Merlot makes great wine in many climates, but this really seemed to be Malta’s viticultural ‘raisin d’etre’ (forgive me). Singularly perfection – one estate, one grape, one hell of a wine. The fact that you are never further than 6 miles to the coast in Malta, the air carries a certain brininess adding a lovely subtle salt tang to the grapes.
The other notable thing about this lovely burgeoning wine estate and one which perhaps the consumers take for granted, is the branding. The labels are dressed with gold foil and impressive artwork. It takes time to create a belting wine, but a completely different skill to make it look appealing.
I loved this wine – the whites were crisp and refreshing and the reds confident and classic – I’m pretty confident that Maltese wines in general and Meridiana in particular will be on everyone’s lips before long.
They were also in the process of sun-drying the new Moscato grapes for a dessert wine they are trying out….can’t wait for that.
We were there filming for Gennaro Contaldo’s FoodTube series.
Keep an eye out for it in 2014 and many more Maltese food blogs on JamieOliver.com.