Booking a Wine Tasting Dinner experience at Maldonado Bistro might be the best thing you do this year.
Whenever GITH Magazine gets invited to eat and drink GITH Magazine is happy. We were kindly invited along to an intimate Wine Tasting Dinner hosted by George the chef and wizard behind Maldonado Bistro.
Surely by now, everyone has dined at Maldonado. If not…Ahem. (and for those that know… ‘How nice is his soufflé?’ ) But when a chef is brave enough to allow an ‘up close and personal’ experience in his kitchen, especially one with high calibre such as George, (or George Larry to the locals) you literally jump at the chance.
After walking the cobbled winding streets of Rabat to the Bistro, our group of eight sat – aperitif in hand – within the cool courtyard reception of this exceptionally heavenly property. Surrounded by a multitude of established hanging Golden Pothos, we made acquaintance with our crew and fired the usual small talk. I’m usually a bit spun out by group experiences, but I knew this time, I was in for a delightful and delectable treat. We were graciously led upstairs to the beautiful space used for kitchen prep and private cooking classes. It’s typically Gozitan. Arches, little stone slab shelves and a gorgeous traditional tiled floor. We were seated amidst one of the most fierce collections of cookery books I ever seen and George got straight to the point.
Chef explained we would sample the wines paired with a four course tasting menu, but this was no ordinary tasting. There was not a swill or a spit to be had. This was a sniff, taste and drink scenario. Fortunately, the pours were civilised and each course felt just about right for the gin drinker in me. With vegans and GFs catered for, we felt we were in very good hands. Let the show commence.
Experiments have shown that people can’t really tell plonk from grand cru. Even experts can’t really judge wine accurately as the results are surprisingly inconsistent. It was all the rage during the eighties, to learn how to taste a wine, what to look for…the nose, the notes and so on. And whilst all bonafide tactics, it can be quite intimidating, therefore we often head to the supermarket shelves and pick our usual wine by default and when we are out at a restaurant, the same approach applies. Play safe and keep within your budget. As much as we are creatures of habit, we know that sometimes, our chosen wine will be rated a gold medallist and just as easy fall flat the next time you order it. For that reason, it’s always interesting to me, when engaging in a wine tasting, how the experience is presented.
One of the things I absolutely loved about this experience was that it was free from frills (and spills). The ownness was not on illusive poppycock nor cost, or vineyard favouritism, it was an honest, unbiased showcase of solid local products compiled with heart and respect for the wineries they were born from.
We were informed that there are only two indigenous grapes grown in Malta. Girgentina, for white wine production and Ġellewża – for reds and rosés. We were told about the processes, the people who made them and their history, entwined (no pun intended) with personal memories and reasons for Chef selecting them. Yes, we talked notes, noses and tones of flavour but whether you believe there is a science behind this or not was kind of irrelevant, due to the authentic nature of George and his team.
He selected eight local wines ranging in prices. Whites, Rose and Reds and they all came with a story and heaps of information and were paired with a four-course meal comprising of two starters, pasta and dessert. Our first sample, Marsovins’ La Torre, is one that certainly does not cost the earth. You will find it on the supermarket shelf and I for one would most definitely pass it by without a second thought, but surprisingly, after George’s explanation I experienced this bottle in a completely different way. He absolutely champions the purity of this wine and explained It’s made from one indigenous grape, processed perfectly with a balanced mix of sweet and sour. Maldonado sells it by the glass and I can understand why. Consider me converted.
My other surprise was the second on the list from the Tal Massar winery in Gharb. Beautifully crisp with a clean elderflower note. A perfect pairing with our first course.
I was excited about the food pairings as much as the wine as I knew this chef was a challenger having salivated over his insta feed for years. I couldn’t wait to see what he paired the wines with. Up close and personal, open to critique and laid bare.
The first dish was Bigilla Fritters, Bigilla is Traditional Maltese hummus made from broad beans. ‘The Maltese love Bigilla’ George stated. ‘They sell it out of the back of trucks’ (move over Mr Whippy) and it’s a fabulous home-grown ingredient, but it’s boring’ he continues. ‘in the Middle East they boil and mash chickpeas to make hummus and Falafel is made with the same ingredients but instead, the chickpeas are soaked, then mashed, then fried. ‘Why can’t we do the same with our beans?’ For the Bigilla, he boils and mashes the beans and for the fritters he soaks in water, mashes then fries.
Boom shackalack! We have a winning contender for the next Maltese Street food Award! Is there a Maltese Street food Award? I proposed one not so long ago…. Anyway, I digress. I can just imagine grabbing one of these beauties from the kiosk. Crispy in all the right places, full of flavour and easy to scoff down on the go. Bravo!
The second was an ingeniously presented humble tomato salad. Chefs’ love of Three Hills Tomato Paste, produced by Magro Brothers in Xewkija, inspired him to elevate this local brand even bringing the tin into the mix and filling it with a delicious, delicate and flavoursome salad with fresh Gozo cheese and sourdough croutons. Remove the tin and the salad falls gently into place on the plate, enchanting.
This dish was paired with a Delicata Rose. A Maltese based winery that have a string of awards to their name. We were told about the process of Rose, interesting for those that don’t know and again, I found this quaffable, considering I’m not a big Rose fan.
Our third course was a Maldonado classic – The Fusilli Luminaria. An egg-free spiral pasta with roasted vegetables, tomato, basil & capers. Typically, Mediterranean and typically tasty. His ragu was rather special, it had hidden depths of flavour which elevated what is a very simple dish.
We tasted another three wines alongside this course, Marsovins’ 1919, another Delicata, this time, a Merlot – The Gran Cavalier and my favourite, the San Niklaw Estates’ ‘Dispatch’ made from the Syrah by a small winery in Zejtun who produce only 4 wines per year. Will be exploring more about this winery for sure.
Our tasting menu was completed by a Noble Tartlet. A picture-perfect tart with their signature logo (The Maltese Cross) with a delectable filling of fig and strawberry with Chantilly Cream. The buttery rustic crust was divine, and the overall dish had the perfect balance of flavours.
An in-depth view: A Carefully Thought-Out Journey For All Five Senses.
Paired with Bigilla Fritters, Djerba & fava bean fritter with beetroot ketchup and peperonata.
Marsovin ‘La Torre’ Girgentina I.G.T (Malta) Made from Malta’s indigenous ‘girgetina’ grape. A truly refreshing and fruity Maltese wine with delicate aromas of lemons melons and a slight mineral hint.
Tal-Massar ‘Tanit’, Vermentino D.O.K (Gozo) A light pear green colour, this Gozo produced wine has a predominant aroma of pear, peach, apple and elderflower. The wine hits your mouth with a medium to high acid giving you a strong sensation of green apple and melon on the front of the mouth.
Marsovin ‘Blanc de Cheval’, Chardonnay D.O.K (Gozo) A private estate wine made from Chardonnay grapes. Grown and hand-picked from the Ramla Valley Estates in Gozo. A medium bodied wine with distinct fruity aromas of citrus and apples bursting into zesty fruity flavours on the palette and ending with a pleasant lingering finish.
Paired With: Hobz Biz Zejt, a Tomato & Gozo Cheese Salad with sourdough croutons.
Delicata ‘Victoria Heights’, Shiraz Rose D.O.K (Gozo) This dry rose wine is pale in colour with an intense fruity nose. Ripe sweet fruit has given the wine concentrated red berry flavours with a slightly hight degree of natural alcohol.
Paired with Fusilli Luminaria, with roasted vegetable, capers and tomato ragu.
Marsovin ‘1919’, Gellewza D.O.K (Malta) Produced from selected grapes of the indigenous Maltese Gellewza red variety. The harvested bunches were laid down to dry in the sun before being vinified resulting in a concentrating of the grapes natural sugars acidity and colour. This full-bodied red has intense fruit aromas of amerena cherries, apricots and chocolate with light tobacco undertones.
San Niklaw Estate ‘Dispatch’ Sangiovese-Mourvedre D.O.K (Malta) A clean ruby red colour with an elegant nose. Reminiscent of the Maltese countryside, the fennel has a particular prominence together with the red fruit and spicy notes. It is well balanced on the palate, refined and takes on pleasant oak aromas in the course of its aging which complement the fruit and spice.
Delicata ‘Gran Cavalier’, Merlot D.O.K (Malta) This full-bodied yet elegant soave velvety red is made entirely from ripe, concentrated Merlot grapes, grown in pocked-sized Maltese vineyards. It is matured for one year in French oak barrels before bottling.
Noble Tartlet. A Fig And Strawberry Buttery Tart With Chantilly Cream.
Galley’s Liqueur Wine D.O.K (Gozo) Harvested and produced in Gozo, this wine is a blend of Cabernet from Xaghra and Sirakuzan from Gharb. Barrel fermented and topped up half-way with alcohol before bottling.
We were so pleasantly full, and the wine was still flowing (if required) whilst questions were happily answered by our jovial chef. He talked about the latest addition to the Maldonado experience, his new blog; A Maltese Pantry born through the Covid halt, he found himself with time on his hands to freshen things up and explore new things (alongside having valuable time with his family). His mission is to document the happening in his kitchen and keep track of all the creative from his team. He also wants to create a nourishing hub of information dedicated to traditional ingredients and tradition for Malta. We are avid readers and you should be too!
This fiercely imaginative and humbly charismatic character is doing exactly what he should be doing in this life and certainly fits the stereotype of a master chef. He leads, he creates, he honours tradition and he pushes forward. We need a chef on Gozo who is confident enough to invite people to watch him work and innovative enough to create dishes that haven’t been designed yet.
Thank you, George. What a fabulous experience and I recommend to one and all. Book a wine tasting dinner as soon as you can. Places limited.
Book A Wine Tasting Dinner
A night for fellow foodies to enjoy and discover more about Maltese wines complemented with a delicious dinner. Tuesday and Thursdays from 7.30pm. View Calendar.
€52 per person. Includes 8 wines, 4-course dinner, water and coffee.