Friday, January 6, 2023

A Journey Across Sicily with Donnafugata

I hope everyone is enjoying their first week of the new year. Our Italian food, wine and travel group will be covering all of Italy throughout 2023 starting from south traveling north. This month we start with the wines of Sicily featuring a variety of grapes from the diverse landscape of what this largest island in Italy brings to the table.  

The Winery ~ Donnafugata  

It’s been awhile since I have featured the wines of Donnafugata, outside of my social media. One of the most respected producers of Sicily, Donnafugata has a history of over 170 years producing wine. What I love about this winery is that they have 4 different vineyard sites across the island so you get a look into the diversity of Sicilian wines from the variety of terroirs and microclimates as you travel east to west from the volcanic soils of Mt. Etna to the island of Pantelleria. 

Donnafugata was established in 1983 by Giacomo Rallo and his wife Gabriella, but the family’s historic wine cellar has been located in Marsala on the western side of the island since 1851. Today Giacomo and Gabriella are joined by their children Jose and Antonio that lead the winery and continue to produce fantastic wines with strong attention to the environment. 

The Donnafugata family was one of the first in Italy to produce all of its energy from solar panels from the hot Sicilian sun. They restrict the use of herbicides and pesticides and continue to take a sustainable approach to winemaking both in the vineyards as well as the cellar. 

Their largest vineyard site of 667 acres is Contessa Entellina. This is where Donnafugata all began on the western side of Sicily. It is also where they produce their iconic wine, Mille e Una Notte that I’m sharing shortly. Donnafugata means fleeing women and is where the novel The Leopard or Il Gattopardo is based and where the queen fled to the hills where Donnafugata is located. They also have 168 acres on the island of Pantelleria off the western coast located between Sicily and Africa. This area became a UNESCO world heritage site due to its unique vine training methods that were handed down from the Phoenicians. They also have vineyards in Acate in the Vittoria DOC in the south along with vineyards in the volcanic soils of Mt. Etna.  

The Wines 

I’ve tried a couple of the wines I’m sharing today except for their Sul Vulcano wine. As the name suggests, this wine is grown on Europe’s highest active volcano, Mt. Etna. The 50 acres of vineyards are located on the north side of the volcano about 750 meters above sea level between Randazzo and Castiglione di Sicilia where there is less rain and the temperatures experience dramatic diurnal swings with a long growing season. There the soils are sandy and are deeply rooted in lava. 

Wines of Donnafugata in Sicily

The 2019 Donnafugata Sul Vulcano Etna Rosso DOC has a unique label of a volcano in the shape of a goddess inspired by Gabriela. The wine is primarily Nerello Mascalese with small amounts of Nerello Cappuccio. The juice spend 8-10 days macerating in stainless steel tanks. It is aged in both stainless tanks and 2nd and 3rd passage French oak for 14 months with an additional 7 months in the bottle.  

This wine was a transparent ruby color in the glass. A pretty bouquet of juicy berries with a hint of smokiness. Upon first opening the bottle it had a little grip on the tannins, but quickly turned into an elegance in the glass. Dry and lighter on the medium body side. A little smoky again with blackberry notes. The wines of Mt. Etna have such character and it’s no surprise considering the unique terrain of where they are grown. ABV 13.5% SRP $30 

2019 Donnafugata Sul Vulcano Etna Rosso DOC

The 2018 Donnafugata Mille e Una Notte Sicilia DOC Rosso is one of the flagship wines of Donnafugata grown in their Contesssa Entellina vineyards. Depending on how good your Italian is, the name “Mille e Una Notte” means a thousand and one nights. This stems, as previously shared, from the novel The Leopard inspired by the main character that is “passionate and revolutionary”. Giacomo and Gabriela’s dream was “innovating the perception of Sicilian wine throughout the world” and this wine was created to do so with the help of famous enologist, Giacomo Tachis.  

This wine is primarily made of the prized grape of Sicily, Nero d’Avola, along with Petit Verdot and Syrah and some other grapes that are all harvested at the optimal time and then blended together. Quite the difference from the last wine. This wine is deeply ruby color with a rich, captivating nose of cherries, blackberries, baking spice and licorice. Full-bodied, but not heavy showing mostly black fruits and tobacco with moderate tannin. Structured and layered upon each sip with great length. This wine could still benefit from some aging and for sure to be enjoyed with some hearty food. ABV 14% SRP $93 

2018 Donnafugata Mille e Una Notte Sicilia DOC Rosso

The 2019 Donnafugata Ben Rye Passito di Pantelleria DOC is located on the island of Pantelleria off the western coast of Sicily. It is made from the Zibibbo grape, also known as Muscat of Alexandria. In Pantelleria the Donnafugata family grows their grapes on 168 acres across 14 districts. They discovered this territory and the ungrafted phylloxera vines to grow this well-respected wine in 1999. The wine, Ben Rye, is derived from Arabic to mean “son of the wind” that refers to the constant winds that blow through the island. 

This wine is heaven in a glass. I had to capture the color it brings to the glass. Such beauty with it’s beautiful amber colors. Make sure this wine is chilled, but not too cold as you want to enjoy all it’s beautiful flavors. This wine screams apricots upon smelling it. Lush and elegant on the palate. Not cloying with apricots and honey notes. Dessert in a glass for sure! ABV 14.5% SRP $48 

2019 Donnafugata Ben Rye Passito di Pantelleria DOC

Here is a preview of what is to come in 2023. We hope you will join us! I’ll personally be featuring blogs focused on Sicily all month.  

January 2023: Sicily  

February 2023: Puglia  

March 2023: Molise, Basilicata, Campania  

April 2023: Calabria and Sardinia  

May 2023: Abruzzo/Marche  

June 2023: Lazio/Umbria  

July 2023: Tuscany  

August 2023: Emilia Romagna/Liguria  

September 2023: Friuli/Trentino-Alto Adige  

October 2023: Veneto  

November 2023: Piedmont/Aosta  

December 2023: Lombardy  

Join my fellow Italian wine and food lovers as they share their personal selections this month to share with you. Enjoy!  

*These wines were provided as samples, but opinions are always my own.


  1. So impressed by the Donnafugata family's emphasis on sustainability. Wines all sound awesome, too!

  2. I am so looking forward to this virtual tour through Italy this year!
    I admit I found a rabbit hole mid-reading your post. I had never heard of "The Leopard". Now I am contemplating a wine and book (or movie) pairing!

  3. I've heard so much about Donnafugata, but it wasn't until I read your post I learned of its history. As good fortune would have it I recently opened a 2015 Ben Ryé during the holiday. Awesome wine!

  4. They did a takeover at a local Italian restaurant and I have loved their wines ever since.

  5. I jump at the chance to taste Donnafugata wines, which are not easy to get here. Wouldn't it be fantastic to visit each of their sites ... or perhaps you have?!? A local wine shop always carried Ben Rye when I lived in Sacramento. Gosh I miss having that access!

  6. Donnafugata wines are all fabulous! The Ben Ryé is one of my favorite sweet wines! Thanks for sharing, Jen!

  7. I had heard of Donnafugata but had never heard their story. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Jen what a fun post. I love all of the wines you mentioned, particularly Ben Rye. It is funny but I always thought Mille e Una Notte referred to Salomé and 1001 Arabian Nights. It's such a great family and I loved your tasting notes. Cheers to you, Susannah