There are a few countries whose wines I've yet to try. Now, thanks to La Cantina importer Ben Naden, I can tick Malta off the list.
For the first time, Kiwi wine lovers can obtain wines from one of the oldest producing countries in the Mediterranean, where winemaking can be traced back to Phoenician times.
Marsovin, one of the five major Maltese wineries, in the business since 1919, now has a presence in New Zealand as well as the United States, Japan, China, Hong Kong and the Netherlands.
All grapes on the smallish island are picked by hand - there's not one machine harvester to be seen and Marsovin uses only locally grown grapes in its wines, including the two varietals indigenous to Malta. The most popular, gellewza, is similar in style to shiraz and makes soft, fleshy reds and aromatic fruity dry rosés. Ghirghentina is similar to pinot gris but with a little more weight and bite.
Most vines are grown as bush vines and few require irrigation despite the hot, dry summers - no doubt compensated by the cool, rainy winters.
New varietals planted in the 1990s and showing well include cabernet sauvignon and syrah ... they seem to flourish in the loamy topsoil on sand limestone and clay, though often do require some form of water assistance to help them along.
The real serious foundations for Malta's wine industry were thanks to the arrival of the Knights of St John in 1530.
Obviously, before putting infidels to the sword, they needed a goblet or two of wine.
When the British arrived in 1800, many vineyards and olive groves were ripped out in favour of planting cotton. Demand evaporated by the end of the 19th century and grapes were back in favour.
The wines are well priced and you can expect some pleasant drinking for around $20. However, it's not all cheap and cheerful. An excellent Marsovin Primus 2012, a blend of gellewza and shiraz grapes, that have been sun-dried and then made in a process similar to that of an Italian Amarone della Valpolicella, is about $100.
Characterised by an intense aromatic bouquet and huge depth of flavours, this big bold beauty is very much a food wine and would wrap itself very nicely around rich red meat dishes or creamy pastas.
2011 Marsovin La Valette - $20-$22
An interesting blend of chardonnay, pinot bianco, trebbiano and moscato. It is medium-bodied and off-dry with aromas of melon, peach and pear. It's similar to pinot gris/viognier in style, with big fruit flavours. Great with antipasti, seafood and salads.
2011 Marsovin Citadella Red - $20-$22
A typical Maltese red wine, whose South Mediterranean character comes from a blend of spicy shiraz with the indigenous red gellewza. The wine is easy-drinking and fruity, with soft tannins and forest berry, redcurrant and raspberry flavours and loves pizza, pasta, red meats and nutty cheeses.By John Hawkesby