Winemaking on Gozo is a practice that dates back some 3,000 years, and each bottle holds flavours within it that have been imparted by the generous sun, the bountiful sea, and the loving care of the local producers.
Wine has been one of the world’s favourite tipples for over 8,000 years, and its history is intertwined with that of empire, religion and humanity itself.
Made using a natural chemical reaction in which grapes ferment without the need to add enzymes or sugar, wine has often been considered to be a miraculous drink. In fact, it has been consumed for its stimulating effects for millennia and it has even become associated with miracles and blood. So much so, that Roman Catholics believe it becomes the blood of the Son of God Himself, during the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Wine, however, has also become a staple on our dining tables, with millions of bottles being drunk each year. Yet while popular myth has it that the best wine comes solely from France, recent emerging markets in the world of wine, such as Chile and Australia, have proven otherwise.
The Maltese Islands are also becoming a sought-after producers for wine, and this is due to a number of factors that make our wine incredibly flavoursome.
So, what makes Gozitan wine special?
Many of the Maltese Islands’ past conquerors understood the strategic importance of the islands’ geographical location for war and trade. But being bang in the middle of the Mediterranean also gives Gozo the perfect mix of heat and humidity needed to help grow grapes for winemaking.
The fact that Gozo is a small island also helps in the production of its wines, as “the sea salt gets sprayed on the maturing grapes leaving traces and flavoursome hints of the same salt in our wines,” explains Joseph Spiteri, the managing director of Ta’ Mena Agri Limited. “This process, often referred to as the ‘Island Effect’, renders Gozitan wines unique.”
Then, there is Gozo’s long history in winemaking, dating back some 3,000 years – a whole millennium before the Romans landed on its shores. Proof of this history was found in archeological excavations in Mgarr ix-Xini, where, following a discovery of the head of a terracotta figurine by Gozitan archaeologist George Azzopardi, a series of campaigns have unearthed pottery shards, marine shells, bones and other terracotta figurines. This has led leading historians to believe that this area was a centre of trade where, most probably, wine was also bought and sold.
Indubitably, practices and tastes – while they have evolved over the centuries – have been passed down from parents to children ever since, and it’s a legacy that can truly be tasted in every sip.
What different kinds of wines are made on Gozo?
From bold and dry to fruity and sweet, Gozitan wine comes in many varieties.
“As it stands, there are 12 different varieties of wine grapes produced on Gozo,” says Joseph. “These are Syrah, Merlot, Grenache, Chardonnay, Vermentino, Tempranillo, Girgentina, Gellewza, Viognier, Sangiovese, Serkuzan and Cabernet Sauvignon.”
Each has its own character and flavour, and each is created to appeal to different palates and to accompany different dishes.
Where can I try Gozitan wine?
Gozitan wine is not just a product but also an experience, and it should be savoured in the full knowledge of its history, process and the people who so lovingly make it.
The people of Gozo are very proud of their relationship with their land and that which it yields, and age-old practices are still used to create everything from honey to wine.
Most restaurants on the island – and some in Malta, too – stock various Gozitan wines that range from rosé to dessert wines. We suggest asking the waiter or waitress to help you choose the right Gozitan wine to go with the dish at hand, as it really will make all the difference!
Hotels on Gozo also stock local wines, and convenience stores, supermarkets and speciality shops have whole sections dedicated to these, giving you the opportunity to buy them as souvenirs for family and friends.
Moreover, places like Ta’ Mena and Tal-Massar offer wine tasting experiences that will unlock new, distinct and unique flavours in the world of wine. These are usually accompanied by tours to vineyards and you will also get to try many delicious local specialities, such as ġbejniet (goat’s cheese) or Maltese bread, alongside them.
Our advice is to always ask a local for their favourite. While they may not point you to the finest bottle from the best year, you’ll be sure to try a hearty wine that has inherited flavours from the sun, sea and land that helped shape its palate.