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Malta’s Glorious Wine

Enjoy this latest contribution from our erstwhile Horsted Keynes resident, Albert Fenech writing him his adopted home in Malta:

“BRINDISI”, CHEERS, GOOD HEALTH, DRINK AND DRINK AND BE MERRY

Maltese wine is gaining popularity world-wide

I was in a room with a number of Italian colleagues. One of them set out a number of wine glasses and filled them with wine. He handed each of us a glass, solemnly raised his and shouted “Brindisi” – and they all did the same! I of course complied.

Later I asked my late pal Cesare Lugo what the “Brindisi” meant, of course as well as being a Province in southern Italy on the Adriatic Sea. He kindly explained that back in the realms of time Julius Cesare had won a famous military victory there and to celebrate he held up a glass of wine and shouted “Brindisi” and all his thousands of troops did the same.

The humanity of Christendom and Judaism was primarily informed of wine in the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible relating instances when wine was essential to whatever was happening.

Our European history of wine began with the description of the liquid from the Latin word “vino” and hence the word vine or vines where the grapes are grown and developed.

Remarkably, for a reason which I find hard to fathom, throughout five thousand years, wine has always been treasured as being something “special” and “precious”, even though it is an alcoholic drink and can lead to tragedies if carelessly imbibed in quantities.

There are many, many alcohols like whisky, gin, vodka, brandy (also from vino) etc, but none are as revered like wine with the type of grape used, the year of its bottling, tasting and being paired with the food to be consumed.

IN THE BIBLE

In his Gospel, St John in 2:1-11 relates how Jesus, his mother and his disciples attended a wedding celebration in Cana which unfortunately ran out of wine. Jesus obliged by turning six stone pitchers of water into wine.

This Cana event remains much celebrated even today and the use of wine as a substitute for blood holding many places in Christian celebrations, especially Communion.

Now, leading into this where do the Maltese Islands stand? Well, the Maltese were quaffing red and white wine as early as 3,000 BC when the Phoenicians landed in Malta and wine was introduced. Naturally, Malta’s geophysical position at the centre of the Mediterranean Sea and its being akin to Semitic overspill and neighbourly proximity made it a natural target.

The exploiters were the Phoenicians who arrived in Malta circa 3,000 BC and introduced their wines. This created an ideal situation with the Maltese exchanging raw Maltese grapes for flagons of ready-made wine and hence, grapes became one of Malta’s major trading exports together with olives and fresh wheat which the Phoenicians treasured as supply for their further Mediterranean incursions.

THE ROMANS IN MALTA

When the Romans came into Malta after ousting the Phoenicians they brought their own wines and of course grapes, olives and wheat remained a major attraction as well as Malta’s handy geophysical situation at the centre of the Mediterranean with the European mainland in the north and the Arab and Middle East in the south during which the shipwrecked St Paul converted the Maltese to Christianity.

The Romans were followed by 200 years of Arabic Ottoman rule and of course wine and all forms of alcohol became prohibited but farmers continued privately to make their own wines from their cultivated vines.

After that wine making and its tastes became very much subject to which country ruled Malta at the time – right to Independence in 1964.

The arrival of the Order of the Knights of St John in 1530 brought about a complete revolution in wine development. Of deep European roots, the Knights were keen wine-lovers themselves enjoying some of the finest wines in the world at the time and would ship copious amounts of it from the mainland for them to indulge in

 

WINE BLOSSOMS

As the culture of wine appreciation consequently evolved to new heights, consumption of locally produced wines was sidelined and neglected, once again relying on the limited consumption by locals and use in religious ritual for survival. Local vine growers and wine makers faced a very stiff challenge of having to compete with some of the richest and advanced regions in the world and with far less experience and resources, a market factor which was destined to last well into the islands’ history.

Independence in 1964 brought about many dramatic changes and for our wine culture it was a new beginning for Maltese and Gozitan wines to make their own standing. One of the changes that came about is an annual Wine International Festival and this year’s edition will be held from Wednesday 19th June to Sunday 23rd June and staged at the Floriana Botanic Gardens leading to the Valletta entrance.

This is the largest wine festival held throughout the islands and will include live music and of course, gastronomy delights with a wide range of Maltese produced wines, rising in popularity throughout Europe.

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Needless to say the growth of grapes and their processing into wine has become one of the staple economic pillars of the Islands.

AMPLE BARS AND RESTAURANTS

Malta and Gozo are certainly not “dry” places. In all there are thousands of bars and restaurants all serving Maltese wine with gusto and wine tasting can be done at any outlet before making the choice of the day.

Today, Malta and Gozo boast of around a dozen wineries, two of which were set up over 100 years ago, and a handful of wine estates produce several thousand of bottles annually and a total yearly production of just over 1.5 million bottles.