Meridiana Wine Estate is a pioneer in the cultivation of international grape varieties on the island of Malta. In 1985, the founder of the estate, Mark Miceli-Farrugia, met the famous Bordeaux oenologist Denis Dubourdieu. From this important meeting, Mr. Miceli-Farrugia became convinced that it is possible to produce high quality wine in Maltese soil. In 1989, he bought a 19-hectare plot of land (a former military airport during the Second World War) in the locality of Ta’ Qali and decided to plant several grape varieties for experimentation.
Convinced that it would be able to produce quality wine if it raised the necessary capital to invest in modern, state-of-the-art facilities, in 1992 the winery joined forces with the famous Antinori family, one of the largest producers in Tuscany (today the Antinori family is the sole owner).
Focusing on international grape varieties
Between 1994 and 1995, nearly 91,000 vines were planted (17 ha). The grape varieties chosen were all international varieties such as chardonnay (8 ha), cabernet sauvignon (3.5 ha), merlot (3 ha) and syrah (2.5 ha). The winery was built in 1996, the date of the first commercialized vintage. It is equipped with temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks and used French oak barrels from Antinori in Italy (as well as some Hungarian oak barrels). In 2006, the estate planted an additional 1.5 hectares of vermentino in the St. Paul’s Bay area. The vermentino, of Sardinian origin, proved to be particularly well adapted to the warm climate of Malta. Little by little, Meridiana is pulling out some Syrah and replanting it with Muscat, which he uses to produce a dessert wine.
The vast majority of the production is sold on the local market. Meridiana’s wines can be found in more than 400 restaurants on the island, so if you don’t have time to stop by the winery, it will be easy to taste their wines. Only a few cases are exported (Japan, Russia, Denmark, Belgium) and for a few private clients (Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong, Switzerland and the United States).
Not easy to make wine in Malta
The climate in Malta is Mediterranean. Temperatures can be very high during the growing season and droughts are recurrent. The estate is located only a few kilometers from the sea (like most of the vineyards on the island). The vineyards are surrounded by a few hills, including the majestic city of Mdina. The soils are calcareous, with a small amount of blue clay.
When I ask Karl Chetcuti, the general manager of the winery, what is the main challenge for the winemaker in Malta. Without hesitation, he answers the climate. The lack of rain combined with the excessive heat makes irrigation mandatory. During the harvest, Meridiana is forced to rent refrigerated trucks so that the grapes are not damaged by the heat.
Operating costs are also higher elsewhere. Bottles, labels, corks, machinery, barrels, everything is imported! It is also not easy to find qualified workers to work in the vineyard (the Maltese do not want to work in such conditions!).
Another problem for the estate is the lack of space. Meridiana Wine Estate would like to expand, but planting new vines is a big challenge on this small island. The estate would like to replant 5 or 6 hectares of vines. Finding that amount of land in one plot is a daunting task in Malta.
Today Meridiana Wine Estate produces about 140,000 bottles of wine per year. Since 2008, all wines have been granted the DOK Malta designation of origin. The whites are not aged in barrels in order to produce light wines, adapted to the climate. As for the reds, the fermentation is very short, again to seek freshness and reasonable alcohol levels. The wine is aged in used oak barrels (2nd and 3rd use). Almost all the wines are named after a Phoenician god, in homage to the people who brought the first vines to the island.
The estate currently produces 10 vintages: 5 reds, 3 whites, a rosé and a dessert wine:
– Fenici white : blend of chardonnay, vermentino and viognier. Not tasted
– Astarte: 100% vermentino. Tropical fruit notes, slight salinity in the mouth and a slightly bitter finish. Very well made. About 11 euros.
– Isis: 100% chardonnay. Nice nose with lemon and floral notes. On the palate, we find almond and green apple. A perfect wine to enjoy on a sunny terrace with a freshly caught grilled fish! Approximately 14 euros. For the record, Meridiana tried to produce a chardonnay aged in barrels, too expensive to produce and not adapted to the local gastronomy, so they decided to stick to a chardo without wood.
– Fenici rosé: a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Syrah. Nice salmon color, strawberry notes. Very dry. Rather well made. 9 euros.
– Fenici red: blend of merlot and syrah. 40% aged in barrels, 60% in stainless steel tanks for a period of 3-4 months. Not tasted.
– Melqart: blend of cabernet-sauvignon and merlot. Aged 8-10 months in barrels. About 15 euros.
– Bel: 100% syrah, 8-10 months in barrel. Not tasted.
– Nexus: 100 % merlot. Aged 8 to 10 months in barrel. Light red color, cherry nose. In the mouth, it is remarkably fresh. The tannins are silky. My favorite. It reminded me surprisingly of a northern Italian wine. About 18 euros.
– Celcius: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 15 to 18 months of barrel aging. About 25 euros. Not tasted.
– Baltis : 100 % muscatel. Dessert wine. About 23 euros per half bottle.
To Visit the Estate
Meridiana Wine Estate is open to the public. It also organizes private tours upon request.