I’m neither a fool nor a dead man, and yet I’m unlikely to change my mind: presently Malta doesn’t have one lone grape variety but fortunately possesses a posse of many grape varieties that could be signed off as Malta’s vinous mark on the world map of wine. Malta’s wine industry can gain attention with a spectrum of grape and wine flavours which are ready for prime-time.

But what if I were forced at gunpoint to choose just one; what would be the name of that single great grape variety that can possibly elevate Malta’s wines single-handedly to international stardom?

If not Girgentina or Ġellewża, Merlot would be the most likely prospect. I have said and written it before. Merlot has been poised there before, I know. But it could all very well be happening right now under our nose. Well-made Maltese Merlot is actually showing a delicious and special quality being appreciated by consumers and wine judges alike.

The fact that the Delicata winery keeps on scoring and has just amassed a hat trick of medals for their 2014 Gran Cavalier Merlot and Classic Collection Marenzio Merlot at the Italian wine competition Emozioni dal Mondo – dedicated to wines made of Merlot and its Cabernet relatives – is another testimonial to the true potential of Malta-grown Merlot.

It confirms the epiphany I had years ago at a wine competition when I surprised myself singling out one of the better red wines as definitely being a Maltese Merlot. It stood out of a lengthy flight of 50 wine samples from over 20 different countries which were all tasted blind (or without any clues as to the provenance of the wines) thanks to a typical scrumptious  savoury quality.

The variety has taken very well to Maltese soil since it was first planted in the 1990s. From the onset of the first vintages, Malta-grown Merlot has been displaying a velvety texture, flavours reminiscent of blackcurrant and all the plum-like allure of a rich fruitcake you’d expect from good Merlot. When tasting across a number of Malta’s varietals, the desirable spice cupboard aromas simply dash out the glass, too. The ‘typicity’ (how much a Maltese Merlot tastes of Merlot) has been present since the early vintages.

But there’s more. Besides spot-on Merlot colours, the wines at the same time also let true ‘Maltese-ness’ shine through. There’s nearly always a subtle chocolately and dusty, faintly salty or savoury attraction to it. Precisely this uncommon appeal sets it apart from wines from the rest of the world. The ‘typicality’ (how much a Merlot from Malta taste uniquely different to Merlot from elsewhere) is starting to become more and more apparent.

Therefore, Merlot, rather than any other dark-skinned cultivar, could very well be the country’s most promising variety to render mind-blowing Maltese wines in the future. Interest is already growing and it’s not unthinkable that Maltese Merlot shall be amongst the most sought-after reds hailing from the Mediterranean.

Today’s wines don’t claim to be first growth examples, but they could very well hold serious equity one day soon – if not already. Judging by a recent tasting of some very promising tank samples of the latest 2015 vintage in the making at the Delicata winery, award-wining winemaker Matthew Delicata appears in full pursuit of just that.

With a little stretch of the imagination, I can envision how in years from now the wines’ popularity will be fuelled by an unquenchable curiosity of master sommeliers wanting to hand-sell Malta’s blue-chip wines to customers who value quality over quantity, scarcity over conventional. Perhaps one day the rest of the world will indeed sit up and watch Malta’s vinous signature being drawn in the garnet red of Malta’s first Merlot Crus.

This article first appeared in The Times of Malta, Friday 13 November 2015


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