A history of wine over a century long
For long Sicily was deemed a land too hot to produce high quality wines, but over the last few decades it has proven to be a breeding ground for exceptional wines with distinct local character like no other.
To better appreciate the territories it is useful to start from the protagonists who have helped to make them special. From the city of Marsala, whose name in the wine is powerfully evocative, we’re talking of the Rallo family and their Donnafugata winery.
The family history, tells us Baldo Palermo at the historic wine cellar, is linked to wine since 1851 and from five generations continues to impress international palates with a wide production of quality wines. Donnafugata winery was founded in 1983 by Giacomo Rallo and his wife Gabriella and included vineyards in Marsala, Contessa d’Entellina and on the island of Pantelleria. The winery is internationally known for its incredible variety of wines produced with local grapes like Catarratto, Nero d'Avola and last but not least, Muscat of Alexandria for the unique Passito di Pantelleria.
The name of the winery as well as some of the wines produced recall the glories and the events described by Tomasi di Lampedusa. The labels are real artistic creations inspired by Gabriella, combining visual art and literature with the character of each wine.
But after a proper introduction, let us dedicate ourselves to their masterpiece:
My official meeting with Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé (Son of the Wind in Arab) recalls the scene in the movie Lawrence of Arabia, in which Omar Sharif emerges from a mirage and for two long minutes slowly approaches the well, to face Peter O'Toole. Similarly, the Ben Ryè appeared from a Sicilian mirage, and my approach has been equally slow and rhythmic. Passito di Pantelleria (made by Zibibbo grapes) is the result of heroic viticulture that characterizes the island's agriculture which was included in the UNESCO intangible heritage thanks to the peculiar cultivation method of the vines.
The 2013 vintage is amber in colour, the nose reveals a range of aromas that recall dried apricots, raisins, dates, figs and honey, as well as balsamic and mineral notes. The balanced acidity transmits freshness and elegance, without making it cloy. The final is fortunately endless.
The characteristics of the wine descend also from the elements that dominate the “Pantesco” (of Pantelleria) landscape: sea, sun, wind and a soil rich in minerals.
A real meditation wine which enclose a cosmos where one is allowed to get lost in epicurean dreams.
The Ben Ryé is certainly comparable to a cult movie that fascinates many generations and for his status deserves to be lived intimately in a dedicated environment, just like big movies. The historic tasting room of the winery is surrounded by handcrafted items from the past, including ceramics, barrels, and bottles which hand over the wine heritage to wine lovers.
Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé, having collected the annual prizes of national and international awards, was the subject of an historical portrait of all 22 vintages produced, leading to unpredictable results. The vertical tasting was led by Monica Larner, writer for Italy of the well known Wine Advocate who, after having tasted the vintages from 1989 to 2013, gave a 98/100 to the 2001 vintage describing it as "a knockout wine, representing the pinnacle of quality for a sweet wine. Drink until 2045”. Such review reveals a staggering aging ability, worthy of the most prestigious international sweet wines.
The right food matching? Sfinci from Marsala (typical sweets of the area) without counting calories ... and to meditate, Mondi Lontanissimi album by the Sicilian author Franco Battiato.
The cellars of the company expanded and since 2016 include vineyards on Mount Etna and in Vittoria, where they began producing interesting new wines made from Chardonnay, Carricante and Frappato for Bell'Assai, presented at Vinitaly 2017. A fact, this, revealing that the Donnafugata phenomenon is growing and intended to collect, in the coming years, the accomplishments of new bets.
For those who want to discover an exceptional ambassador of Sicilian wine in the world, we refer to the page dedicated to winery visits and our article dedicated to the territory.