Zalzett Malti, the traditional fresh Maltese sausage, made from ground pork, sea salt, crushed black peppercorns and coriander seeds, garlic and sometimes parsley, is staple diet in Malta and Gozo.
Regardless of the method of preparation, the nation has an unbridled gusto for Maltese bangers, which are eaten raw, plainly boiled, pan-fried and grilled, on their own or as a part of a dish or main course.
It’s a classic homey meal that never fails to satisfy a hearty appetite. And, I’ve noticed that nowadays, for the sake of reinvention, some upcoming chefs are serving fancy gourmet incarnations.
What then makes for an appropriate pairing when you’re in the mood for wine?
Admittedly, the ingredients garlic and parsley are not particularly wine friendly, especially when the sausage is served raw as an appetizer. But, like with steak tartare, you don’t need to stick with red just because it’s meat.
In fact, just as lemon and uncooked garlic are natural bedfellows so are citrussy white wines. Try Delicata’s Medina Sauvignon Blanc or the winery’s semi-sparkling, single-varietal Girgentina Frizzante with its refreshing perlage of bubbles. The bubbly also doubles up nicely as an aperitif.
If it’s red you fancy, beware that the use of salt and pepper in profusion lends itself to complement the sausage with young fruity red wines that are not overly tannic. Salt causes tannins to taste more bitter whilst pepper brings out the flavours of unpresumptuous reds, making them appear a tad more intricate. You might like to uncork smoother red varietals such as Grenache, Ġellewża or firmer but still light-bodied Cabernet Francs.
Like other foods, Zalzett Malti should not be matched to wines based on the ingredients alone. Different ways of cooking beg for different wine choices.
When boiled, the sausages need an accompanying wine that is not too hefty, or at least no more than medium-weight. This implies that there is a far greater choice of appropriate white and rosé wines than there is of reds. Again, tannins, found principally in red wines, are an adversary whereas the freshness of crisp white and pink wines can heighten the delicate poached taste. The Gozitan Victoria Heights Chardonnay and even the Shiraz Rosé available under the same label team up well.
In practice, Maltese sausages are often not served simply poached but also pan-fried. Frying the boiled sausages in some form of fat or oil, will, if anything, enrich the meat’s taste and a browned outside will intensify it as in roasting and grilling.
Because of the more pronounced ‘browning’ flavours, wines for drinking with sausages fried or grilled over an open fire, which becomes barbecuing when done outside, can usually afford to be more forceful. But mind the barbecue sauce: it’s a potential trip wire given its sweetness and not many wines come out on top.
Full-bodied, fruit-packed reds manage quite well, though. Try one that’s been barrel-aged like the peppery and toasty Grand Vin de Hauteville Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz blend which mirrors the smokiness of the charred meat.
Medium-dry whites and sweetish rosés work also. However, they may not be what some people expect to drink with barbecued meat. Malta’s popular Ġellewża Frizzante, for example, would be a good fit: it plays a nice tug-and-pull with sweet, savoury and sour flavours, especially if there’s any mustard or vinaigrette nearby.
At the end of the day, the sausage is likely to be only one component of the meal, and I would always consider all side dishes, sauces and condiments before settling on a match. Pairing wine with Zalzett Malti is the easy part; it’s all the rest that can throw you for a loop.
This article by Georges Meekers appeared first in the Times of Malta, 10 March 2017.