A taste of success
He stands proudly inside Tirx, the wine bar he opened last December with business partner Michael Tanti Dougall, holding up a plain green bottle of red wine. On the counter, there is a selection of polished crystal goblets and in the quiet of the afternoon, the only noise is the hum of a refrigerator that holds the cream of the 140 wines he stocks.
But even though he speaks confidently about the characteristic of a French chateau-bottled wine and the best temperature to serve a New World white, his eyes really light up when he talks about the bottle in his hand.
"The bar has been really busy, even though it has not yet been officially opened. But even though they have so many wines to choose from, a lot of our clients ask for our wine," he said. He later lets slip that in fact 90 per cent of the wine sold is produced by Kantina Annesco specifically for Tirx Wine Bar.
He is anxiously awaiting the results of tests in Italy which will enable him to label the wines as DOK reserve, the highest certification for local wines.
This is the birth of the Annesco label (named after his daughter Annelise and his son Francesco).
Mr Fenech's father was considered to be the connoisseur for the area, and was often asked to test his neighbours' wine. His son inherited his passion and started making his own. For years, he supplied an ever-growing list of friends, neighbours and relatives. The day came when he decided to take the plunge. He remembers the day well: He went to a Grande MaÃ®tre tasting at Marsovin and never looked back.
He is the first to admit that passion for wine-making is not enough. He would get his wife to help him with research, ploughing his way through all the books and literature he could get his hands on. He finally felt ready.
He got a licence to make wine in 2000 but he insists on allowing the wine to mature for three years, so only the 2002 and 2003 vintages are available for the moment. The rest lie in the damp, coolness of a cellar across the road, in a mix of oak barrels, stainless steel vats and glass. All three are blended to ensure that the best of each is achieved... The end result is the Sant'Anna Cabernet 2002 and the Tirx 2003 labels.
"I believe that the glass containers are the best," he said, adding that it is all too easy for oak casks to overcome the subtleties of the wine. Grapes are purchased under contract from growers in Siġġiewi, Gudja and Żebbuġ, to whom a long list of conditions is given, ranging from irrigation schedules to pruning. The company buys an average of six tonnes a year, resulting in around 6,000 litres.
"We only do red. I believe that this is what Malta's soil and temperature are best suited to," he said, adding with a smile, "and I personally prefer red wine!"
His first vintages were put into bottles that he painstakingly hand-scribed in gold ink with name and date. He has a series of bottles dedicated to the Presidents of Malta. He has done others to commemorate corporate events. With such a long list of thirsty fans, the time had come to have own label. The Sant' Anna Cabernet and the Sant' Anna Merlot will be launched soon, although he has not yet finalised his marketing and distribution plans.
"They are wonderful wines and will age well for up to 15 years. Who knows perhaps one day we will even export them..." he mused, adding that he himself had never left the islands, not wanting to leave his mother on her own. She passed away some years ago but he has yet to take the plunge.
The bar is located on two floors and the roof of his 440-year-old former family home, once a maize oven, where maize (before the advent of wheat) was toasted before being sent to the mill behind the wine bar eventually ending up as local bread. The wine bar serves platters and dips and can cater for up to 80, although the company has decided to space out the tables and give people a bit more room and a bit more privacy.
Tirx Wine Bar is at 14, Triq il-Blata, Tarxien, the street where Mr Fenech was born and bred. But it is a world away.
From home to home
1960s: His widowed mother brings up six children on her own. His siblings sell peanuts to raise money.
1980s: Dennis works as a vegetable hawker
1990s: He starts to make his own wine
2000s: Tirx wine has a huge fan base
2007: Tirx Wine Bar opens its doors and he launches his own label