Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Donnafugata wines and the unique grapes of Sicily

Last week I attended a wine tasting at the Tuscan Market  where I had the opportunity to meet Silvio, whom is the North American Director for the Donnafugata winery of Sicily. Silvio is also a certified sommelier by the Italian Sommelier Association (AIS). 
Wine tasting at Tuscan Market with Donnafugata Silvio di Silvio
Silvio of Donnafugata

Giacomo and Gabriella Rallo with Jose and Antonio
Rallo family, Left to Right: Antonio, Giacomo, Gabriella and Jose'
The Donnafugata winery holds 160 years of experience with owner Giacomo Rallo combining his experience with his wife Gabriella and her experience in the industry. The two combined, along with their two children Jose' and Antonio, are one of the limited wineries in Sicily that produce estate grown wines. Only 2% of wines produced in Sicily come from estate grown wineries according to Silvio. The rest are produced by cooperatives.

Donnafugata vineyard in Pantelleria Sicily
Terraced hills of Pantelleria
Donnafugata, translating to “woman in flight”, references Queen Maria Carolina, whom during the time of Napoleon's arrival in Italy, fled the area and resided in the place where the winery stands today. There are 3 areas where Donnafugata grows its grapes including Pantelleria, Marsala and Contessa Entellina all located in southern Italy in Sicily. Marsala and Contessa Entellina are located in western Sicily where Pantelleria is an island off the coast of western Sicily. The Marsala sight is the main establishment where all the wines are aged and bottled. 
Donnafugata vines
Weather of Sicily
Sicily's weather consists of considerable differences in day and night temperatures that allow them to produce aromatic and mature grapes in their vineyards. The vines, as shown here, in Pantelleria are low, broad bushes so that the grapes don't get fried by the sun and have a canopy of leaves to protect them.



Wines of Donnafugata

One of the eye catching things about Donnafugata wines are their labels, which were created by Gabriella. The woman on the label is actually a self-potrait of Gabriella when she was in her 20's. I tasted a full flight of wines from their two whites, Athilia & Lighea, to their 3 reds, Sedara, Tancredi and Mille e Una Notte, finishing with their dessert wine, Ben Rye. My favorites from the tasting that I want to share with you are the two whites and the red Tancredi.



Donnafugata Lighea with zibibbo grapesI chose both whites because they both had unique qualities. The Donnafugata Anthilia is made of a grape indigenous to Sicily called Catarratto that has some Inzolia blended in. Inzolia is most similar to a chardonnay and is also known as ansonica in Tuscany. Catarratto is the most planted grape in Sicily and is only found there. It's best blended with other grapes as it is in Anthilia. This wine was crisp, juicy and fresh with a little saltiness and minerality on the lengthy finish. The Donnafugata Lighea is made of 100% Muscat of Alexandria, also known as moscato bianco or known in Sicily as Zibibbo. This wine had a florally, beautiful nose and was a dry, crisp style muscat. Very enjoyable!



Donnafugata Tancredi nero d'avola
For the reds I chose the Donnafugata Tancredi. This wine consisted of mostly nero d'avola and cabernet sauvignon, but also had 10% tannat, which is typically very austere and tannic. It was very structured with intensity and the cabernet lended nice body to the wine. It's aged 14 months in barriques and another 24 months in the bottle. A great wine to pair with some food.

Wines in Sicily, Donnafugata
I can't ever pass up a good dessert wine as well and Donnafugata makes the delicious Ben Rye made from the moscato, zibibbo, grapes on the island Pantelleria.  This wine is made in the passito style where the grapes are dried to provide that deep concentration of fruit making for a very enjoyable, unctuous wine. Rich sweetness of honey and apricot.  Need I say more? 



Donnafugata's sustainability
Night harvesting of Donnafugata
Night harvesting
One of the admirable qualities of Donnafugata is their focus on sustainability. One of the biggest actions they take part in is night harvesting. By harvesting their grapes at night they save 70% of their energy that is normally needed to cool off the grapes for fermentation. They also use a lot of solar panels for energy and their latest cellar is built underground for additional savings. I have always been conscious of conserving energy and recycling, but it wasn't until my recent trip to Alaska where I saw the effects due to the glaciers retreating. I can appreciate their efforts and I hope you can too!
visiting Donnafugata winery
Underground barriques
This winery participated in the recent event, Cantine Aperte, which I recently wrote about. You must explore it if you are in Italy during May. They also have a great part of their website where you can enter what you are eating to see what wine they recommend or vice versa where you enter the wine you have purchased and they suggest recipes to pair along with it. I offered my own wine and food pairing from a Wine Pairing weekend event that I'm involved in monthly where this month's theme was “summer's bounty”. I paired some light summer appetizers with Donnafugata wines so don't miss it! 

Food pairings with the wines of Donnafugata
Pairings at Tuscan Market
Antipasti served with sicilian wines
Pairing at Tuscan Market
Tuscan Market wine tasting with Donnafugata

If you want to learn more about the unusual grapes of Sicily including the ones mentioned above check out this detailed wine grape varietal table.