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The wines of Marsovin
Marsovin Wine Cellars

by Peter F May

M  alta is a group of seven small limestone islands in the Mediterranean. The largest island, named Malta has an area smaller than Greater London and is about 90 miles south of Sicily. The islands are densely populated and the shorelines are packed with hotels and holiday apartments because tourism is a major industry.

        So there is now precious little room for vineyards, but some are planted on Malta and the second largest island Gozo, and there are seven wineries on Malta. Because of the demand for wine from locals and tourists exceeds that than can be met from these vineyards most wineries make the majority of their wines from grapes imported from nearby Italy –this is usually noted on the label – but there are some excellent wholly Maltese wines.

        Wine has been grown in Malta since at least Roman times but it was under the military religious order Knights of St John (who ruled the islands from 1530 to 1798) that vine growing proliferated. And it was the British, who took control in 1800, who are blamed for having most of the vines uprooted, apparently because of the gross drunkenness of locals.

        Despite the number of visitors to the islands, the wineries do not seem overly interested in wine tourism, casual visitors are not accepted and the only way to visit a winery is to make an appointment.

        And so I tried to make appointments with Meridiana and Marsovin. Meridiana’s email their spam checker rejected every single email that I sent them, even my last one that contained just the word ‘test’, however Marsovin’s export manager Andrew Kirby promptly replied and so it was that I visited their cellars.

Marsovin Cellars
Marsovin is a family owned firm that was founded in 1919 by Anthony Cassar and is now run by his grandson, Tony Cassar. The company takes its name from Marsa, the area of Valletta where its cellar and winery is located by the harbour side. These ancient stone cellars,(pictured above) reached by a narrow spiral staircase, were built by the Knights of St John to hold timber shipped into Malta. Marsovin own 5 vineyards on Malta and Gozo and produce single estate wines from them.
‘1919’ White Limited Edition 2005

This blend of 85% Chardonnay and 15% local grape Girgentina is fresh, clean and inviting. A small amount of the Chardonnay was barrel fermented for extra complexity. There are almond and spicy flavours here with a long finish. I can understand why this wine sells out in 2 months of release, although some are purchased by collectors attracted by the label that features an annually commissioned painting from Maltese artists.

Antonin Blanc Private Estate Selection 2004

Chardonnay grown on calcareous soil in the Ramla Valley Estate on Gozo island, 100% barrel fermented in new American oak. This has a good mouth feel, it is nutty and tangy with good acidity. The oaking is subtle, and this is a delicious elegant wine. 18000 bottles made, 13% abv

Cassar de Malte Brut NV

This is a methode champenoise sparkler made from100% Chardonnay grown in Marsovin’s Wardija Valley Estate. It’s a limited production single estate wine –and rare for nowadays – all the bottles are riddled by hand in traditional pupitres. (pictured below) Opening it I am immediately struck by the deep buttercup yellow colour of the wine. T77here’s a good flow of tiny bubbles and an attractive yeasty nose. This is a delightful sparkler with good length and authentic brioche flavours. Lovely.
Pupitres in Marsovin's Cellars

Odyssey Rose 2005

A pink wine from Grenache grapes grown on Gozo, it was made as a red wine but turned out pale enough to be a rose. It is fresh and clean, quite exciting with spice and a tangy finish. 8215 bottles made 12.5%abv

‘1919’ Red Limited Edition 2005

The red 1919 is a blend of 60% Merlot, 30% Syrah and 10% Gellewza (a local indigenous grape). They dried the Gellewza to try and get a higher alcohol level as it is naturally 9%. This dry wine has cherry flavours but I found it a bit metallic on the finish. 32,800 bottles, 13.5% abv.

Ulysses 2005

This is 100% Syrah grown on Gozo. It is very dark and has a beautiful inviting nose and in the mouth it is full but soft and spicy with blueberry flavours and a slight sweetness. This is a delightful wine with a long long finish. (The name is inspired by the location of the vineyards which are by Calypso’s Cave, said to be where Ulysses lived for 7 years with the nymph Calypso who promised him immortality.)

Cheval Franc Private Estate Selection 2005

This is from Marsovin’s own Cheval Franc estate on Malta overlooking St Paul’s Bay. It is mostly Cabernet Franc with some Syrah (less than 15%). It’s a powerfully flavoured wine, and yet silkily velvet in the mouth. There is spice on the front palate and it has a medium length. We subsequently ordered this wine several times in restaurants while in Malta and it never failed to delight. The estate’s name acknowledges both the major variety (cabernet franc) and the love of horses (cheval) by Marsovin’s late chairman, Joseph Cassar. 16,000 bottles 13.5% abv

Antonin Noir Private Estate Selection 2004

Antonin Noir is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon grown in Marsovin’s Marnisi estate at Marsaxlokk. It was aged for 12 months in 2nd fill French oak barrels. The wine was already starting to brown; it was soft, lacking in fruit and a bit woody with tannins apparent on the back palate.

Antonin Noir Private Estate Selection 2005

What a difference a year makes. 2005 was a better year on Malta and this wine has up-front ripe fruit, it is fuller, more lively with some soft tannins underpinning its vibrancy.

Marnisi Private Estate Selection 2004

A Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot (5%) grown in Marsovin’s Marnisi estate at Marsaxlokk and aged in new and 2nd fill French oak barrels for 12 months. This has fresh lively fruit, it is soft on the front palate and then opens up. There is a lot going on here, spiciness, good balance of fruit, acids and tannins. An excellent wine. 13% abv

Grand Maitre 1999

Grand Maitre, with its pewter metal label, is Marsovin’s flagship, and this single estate wine – they tell me ruefully – sells out instantly and is traded at a premium between collectors. The 1.1 hectare Ghajn Rihana Estate is planted roughly equally with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The vineyard is the site of the deciding battle of the Great Siege when the Knights of the Order of St. John threw out the invading Turks in September 1565. Each vintage is dedicated to one of the noble Grand Masters of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. The 1999 vintage has an incredible nose of ripe blackcurrants. The wine is softly approachable, with sweet blackcurrant fruits, great depth and good texture. This is a superb wine. Only 3000 bottles were produced. 13% abv

Grand Maitre 2003

This more recent vintage is less forward on the nose than the 1999. It has a good body, though more grippy with tannins over fruit at the moment, and some dry tannins on the finish. This is a wine for laying down a few years. The wine’s label is dedicated to Grandmaster of the Order of Saint John, Jean Parisot de la Valette (1494 -1568), founder of Malta’s capital Valletta. 12% abv
This tasting of Marsovin’s wines was a revelation to me. They are superior wines, with good flavours, balance and complexity. And, although grown in a hot climate, they have reasonable levels of alcohol – no 15% abv bruisers here, but subtle food wines. And over the following week I drank Maltese wines with meals and took some home with me to try in the gloomy cold and fog of an English winter and they all confirmed the findings of the tasting. Malta is making some darn good wines and it is a shame they are not more widely known. However, production is necessarily limited.

The Winery
Will Street
PLA 01


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23 December 2006