A small island facing Tunisia, Pantelleria has become synonymous with Passito di Pantelleria Doc dessert wine. Made from aromatic Zibibbo – also known as Moscato di Alessandria – this niche wine is characterized by an intense freshness and minerality, encapsulating the volcanic soils and sea breezes. Such a fine example of a dessert wine calls for a re-assessment of this style of product – which has (way too) long been underestimated.
Despite being disregarded by modern cuisine – which is increasingly focusing on drier and low-calorie wines – sweet wines offer some of the most interesting evidence of differing viticultural traditions. In the case of Passito di Pantelleria, this niche wine could become a proper symbol of the island, benefiting in turn from tourism and word of mouth recommendations.
The Pantelleria Doc Festival
That is exactly the tack taken by the first Pantelleria Doc Festival: promoting the island and local viticulture through a whole week of events, tastings and tourist activities. Increasing travel links with Sicily through DAT daily flights have definitely helped boost the trend. People come here for the seaside resorts and the breathtaking unspoilt landscapes dominated by black lava, then end up exploring local food and wine.
A head-trained bush vine
There are 445 grape growers on the island who grow a combined area under vine of 417 hectares. The Consortium represents 370 growers and 7 proper wineries: Fabrizio Basile, Coste Ghirlanda, Marco De Bartoli, Donna Fugata, Salvatore Murana, Cantine Pellegrino and Cantine Vinisola. The head-trained bush vine tradition has recently been included on UNESCO’s Heritage List. It has been used on the island for centuries and it shields the grapes from both sunlight and strong winds. High production costs are the main obstacle for Passito di Pantelleria: in order to produce 1 litre of passito, 4 kilos of grapes are needed. Despite this, Passito di Pantelleria has been able to develop a genuine identity over the years, including in its marketing strategies. The same cannot be said for the dry white wines made on the island from Zibibbo, which can be labelled only as "Bianco di Pantelleria" with no reference to the grape used, as it is a prerogative of the Sicilia Doc appellation. Additionally, only a few dry whites, such as those of Salvatore Murana, are able to perform as well as Passito, which is most definitely the real representative of the island's potential.
Fabrizio Basile of the eponymous winery
Antonio Rallo of Donna Fugata winery
Giulia Pazienza of Coste Ghirlanda
The Passito of Pantelleria
Marco de Bartoli winery has been able to create a legend with Bukkuram Padre della Vigna which is produced only in good vintages. The 2012 vintage exudes aromas of orange zest and sweet spices, complemented by a balsamic palate with notes of eucalyptus. A smoky aromatic profile and nutty flavours are the main features of the passito produced by Fabrizio Basile. Coste Ghirlanda can be recognized instead for its honey-driven notes and intense flavourful character, which is also the hallmark of Salvatore Murana's passito, showing aromas of mint, myrtle and liquorice. Probably the best known passito abroad, Donna Fugata's Ben Ryè, is reminiscent of raisin, dried apricot and candied orange and displays a noticeable mineral sensation in the mouth. Cantine Vinisola offers a delicate, almost flowery interpretation (mainly honeysuckle and acacia) whereas Cantine Pellegrino's bottling is definitely fruit-driven, with aromas of figs and apricots.
Francesco Rizzo of the Vinisola winery
Sebastiano De Bartoli of Marco de Bartoli winery
Paola Alagna of Cantine Pellegrino
Salvatore Murana of the eponymous winery
By Irene Graziotto
Photo credit: Giuseppe Caruso, Courtesy of the wineries and Consorzio.