What a territory should be

by Riccardo Viscardi 05/31/19
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Cantina Donnafugata pantelleria

We had a wonderful experience while on Pantelleria on the sidelines of the Sicilia en Primeur event where the host producer – Donnafugata – offered us not their wines but the island itself.

Something would appear to be changing in the mentality of Italian producers and I hope it is real and not just an illusion. I witnessed this during the annual tour organized by Assovini Sicilia as part of the Sicilia en Primeur promotional event. Ahead of the classic tasting held in the beautiful Ortea Palace Hotel in Ortigia, I was given a tour of western Sicily, an area I love very much. The novelty this year was a one-day trip to Pantelleria, from 8am to 6pm flying out of Trapani Birgi airport.

A miracle appears to have taken place on this wonderful and intriguing island. Rather than offer a complete tasting their own wines – complete with food pairings and a visit to the winery – the host producer organized a cultural tour of the island. This allowed us journalists to understand the context in which the wines were made and the tour often focused on the wines the host’s competitors and, above all, those who have paved the way to fully understand this island’s potential.

Donnafugata’s management, represented by CEO Antonio Rallo and public relations and media chief Baldo Palermo, offered us a new experience that went beyond their estate because, as they explained, “you can taste our wines in Ortigia”. What they showed us was the island’s winemaking soul with its alberello head-trained vineyards (a UNESCO intangible heritage); the over 1,000-year tradition of thePantelleria garden composed of a centuries old orange tree surrounded by a circular, lava stonewall that is structured to retain rainwater (which Donnafugata restored and donated to the Italian Environment Fund FAI in 2009); the cultivation of capers in incredible, terraced gardens; farms that recall the island’s Arab past (only the names remain given they took away the rest); the use of canebrakesto protect the vines against the wind when they blossom; the island’s famous dry stonewalls; and the gradual disappearance of the island’s native eating grapes, replaced by the seedless Turkish variety. We also visited the hot springs, with waters and muds free to all, and the ruins of the island’s pre-Phoenician inhabitants. It was all like a wonderful and sweet cultural shipwreck similar to the sweet Passito dessert wines this fantastic island produces. Here you can relive the past, sitting in one of the many hidden and windy coves where time seems to have stood still, and fully comprehend the islands over 1,000-year winemaking traditions.

It also allows to you to understand that the island’s heritage is so broad that it gives the wines a unique soul that reflects thousands of years of history that is unrepeatable elsewhere and reflecting this cultural heritage is a measure of a winemaker’s skill. Donnafugata with its Ben Ryé is a perfect example of this. Let us hope others follow their example in the interest of their territory rather than badmouth their neighbors.

For those of you who love our descriptions, here is a review of the latest, splendid vintage of Ben Ryé, which we sampled at the final tasting in Ortigia.

Donnafugata Passito di pantelleria Ben Ryé 2016Pantelleria Passito Ben Ryé 2016 

96/100 - € 45

Made from slightly raisinated Zibibbo (Alexandria Moscato) grapes and matured in tubs for at least seven months. The wine has a very intense, golden-yellow color with light amber reflections and a wrapping and intense aroma with notes of dried apricot, dates and candied orange peel with a refreshing whiff of thyme. The dense and rich mouthfeel is sweet yet balanced by a nice acidity and the persistence is magnificent.

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