There’s a vast array of local wines, fine cheeses and delicious traditional cuisine to try out in this charming little nook in Valletta.
“Wine o’clock!” is a particularly modern phrase that speaks volumes about the exhausted age that we live in. It signals the end of a long day, a time to put all troubles to rest. It indicates that the time for worrying is over, and the hour to enjoy some much needed me-time, treating yourself with a comforting or celebratory glass of wine in hand, has now arrived.
And at this little wine bar in Valletta which is named just so, that’s exactly what you can do, in exceedingly cosy surroundings.
Less than a year old, Wine O’Clock is on a corner of Old Bakery Street, right around the corner from the legendary Legligin. Indeed, the two establishments share a kitchen, as they are owned by the same entrepreneur and wine enthusiast, Chris Mifsud Bonnici, whose fine taste and expert touch made the wine bar with a red facade a household name.
He is clearly aiming to do the same with his newest venture, with its name on the exterior spelt out in gleaming golden letters, by combining Maltese hospitality with a passion for local wines and appetisers, French cheeses and Spanish cured meats.
The place is tiny, and you can tell that every effort has been made to maximise the space. A large, glittering chandelier makes it considerably better lit than most wine bars, although the lighting is still warm, flattering and intimate. Hundreds of wine bottles line the walls on top of stacked shelves, and our host said that there are around 150 different wines available, with new special guest wines making an appearance every week or so.
“At Wine O’Clock, our focus is mostly on local wines, since there are so many interesting producers and varieties on the islands which you can’t find elsewhere,” she says. "That is why we are promoting the taste of local wines and grapes."
The decision to concentrate on showcasing local wines was made because so many visitors to Malta are keen to try out what Malta has to offer in the wine stakes - and sometimes, other wine bars don't offer much in that regard at all.
And while the focus is on wines from Malta and Gozo, Wine O'Clock also has an extensive selection of wines from France and Italy, and a range of New World wines too, as the tome-like wine list that we leaf through can verify.
Once we’re settled, with a glass of Syrah in hand and jazz standards piping quietly through the speakers, our host asks us what we'd like to eat. Wine O’Clock’s Maltese tapas include aljoli, caponata, bigilla, pork roulade and smoked sausage, as well as hot and hearty traditional dishes such as rabbit and bragioli, which all sound enticing, especially considering its sister restaurant’s excellent reputation for food.
However, we are intrigued by the promise of fine French and local cheeses and jamón ibérico, and after a few moments, a wooden slab laden with slices of Brie, Morbier, Gruyère, and Comté, a generous helping of sweet and mild jamón, which was sawn off right in front of us, and a basket of crusty Maltese bread were making their way over to our table.
The platter of cheese is accompanied with a tiny tray of melon and home-made fig jam. It’s all delicious, and incredibly moreish, and we’re delighted with our choices.
Oh, and those with a sweet tooth are well catered for as well - after we’d had our fill of cheese and wine, we finished the evening with a lovely, boozy tiramisu and a decadent slice of white chocolate cheesecake, delivered straight from the kitchen next door.
Wine bars are not exactly a novel idea in Malta, and while Wine O’Clock certainly has an impressive selection of wines, (and an appetising food menu to go with it), our host says that it is its personality that sets it apart. “The size of the wine bar allows us to give our clients a more customised service and more personalised attention,” she says. “We can really take care of them here, whether you are a couple or a smaller group.”
I’m inclined to agree - from helping you choose a wine you’ll remember when you go home, to adjusting the volume of the music if it’s too loud, both the service and the ambiance are sweet, comforting and familiar. It’s like having a glass of wine and a nibble of cheese at home, only much better. And really, isn’t that what the appeal of announcing that it’s ‘wine o’clock’ is all about?
Next time you’re in the city and feeling that itch that only a good glass of wine can scratch, why not give Wine O’Clock a try? You won’t be disappointed – unless you forget to book!