Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere
Marsala, Sicily in Italy---There are few places as steeped in history, legend and archeological treasure as Sicily. Marsala, with its signature, distinctive wine and sweeping panorama of history is a particular treasure and, for the past 160 years, Tenuta Di Donnafugata has been an integral part. The family, the wines and the land are as intertwined as the grape vines, olive trees and wildflowers that abound in its rugged, hillside vineyards.
On a recent visit, Donnafugata's active participants, the brother and sister team of Antonio Rallo, techinical director and Jose Rallo, CEO, hosted an extravagant tour of the winery's properties in Marsala and an exquisite tasting and menu sampling of their wines and local culinary delights. It was a day and evening in paradise.
Donnafugarta's vineyards in Marsala stretch from the highest volcanic hills to the shores of the shining Mediterranean Sea. Along the way, wild flowers, olive trees and fresh herbs delight both the eye and the senses. There is a firm sense of history and place here. It is a landscape that is revered in history and which was captured by modern day filmmakers such as the legendary Italian director Roberto Rosellini and The Italian-American Director Francis Ford Coppola. Sweeping vistas seem ripe for photographic images and this blogger took full advantage of its sweeping vistas and intimate grottos.
Grapes, wild herbs and olive trees are intermingled across the panoramic expanse. This is one of the most abundant sources of wine grapes in all of Italy and ground zero for the production of some of the region's most expressive wines.
Sicilian Photo Gallery by Dwight Casimere
"The vineyards you're seeing today are special, Jose Rallo said during a tour of the family vineyards. "We have an experimental vineyard where we are planting many of the idigenous varieties of grapes that had been abandoned. We are cultivating these rare, old varieties in order to develop clones and to find the right soil and the right climate in order to improve our native grapes in general."
The wines of Donnafugata
Downtown Palermo, Sicily with its historic Baroque Buildings and towering volcanic mountains
Exquisite wines with a sense of history, time and place
The wines of Donnafugata are complete expressions of the diversity of Sicilian wines and grape varietals, which are unique to the region. With the exception of the luscious, honey-toned Ben Rye Marsala wine, which sells for $41.99 the half bottle, the majority of Donnafugata's 90+ rated wines sell for under $20, with most at a comfortable $14.99 in many U. S. wine shops and supermarkets. The wines are proof positive that one doesn't have to spend an arm and a leg for exceptional value in wine.
At a lovely buffet dinner, which featured many Sicilian specialties and traditional favorites, there was an opportunity to appreciate the full range of flavor experiences offered by wines made from the indigenous grapes of Sicily.
Wines tasted included a vertical tasting of Donnafugata's signature wines from the Contessa Entellina estate and vineyards, including Chiaranda 2006 and 2009 and a special tasting of Chiaranda del Merlo 1999 and 2001, a rare opportunity indeed! Also, a vertical tasting of Mille e una Notte 2000, 2003, and 2007 followed by, of course, a fabulous meal, an hilarious dessert, the traditional "Virgin's Breasts" (which brought howls and a string of bawdy jokes, which cannot be repeated in this space!) and the marvelous jewel in the Donnafugata crown, Ben Rye, the finest example of Marsala wine on the planet!
The evening began with a premiere tasting of Donnafugata Brut ($38), an ideal apperitif from the Tenuta di Contessa Entellina. A blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, it is a surprisingly elegant and well-balanced sparkling wine with nice acidity and bright, fruit flavors that literally dance on the palate. White peaches, apricots and a hint of crystallized honey and wildflowers, with a touch of wild fennel in the backnote, make for a pleasurable introduction to any summertime meal.
The grand finale of the trip to Donnafugata was the Pantelleria Tasting at Contessa Entellina April 25, 2013. It featured the incomparable Kabir 2011-Moscato di Pantelleria DOP, a 100% Zibibbo (aka Muscat of Alexandria), an indigenous and historic grape variety. It is characterized by grapes warmed by a long, hot summer. The harvest began late, on September 15th with climatic conditions that allowed for the obtaining of healthy, luscious grapes, with great aromatic intensity. The wine is characterized by flavors of intense, fresh fruit and heady aromas of wild flowers, and notes of honeyed citrus and ginger. Ben Rye is the flagship wine of Donnafugata and Marsala. Ben Rye 2004-Passito di Pantelleria DOC-Zibibbo (Muscat of Alexandria is comprised of grapes that are dried on racks (passito) for 3-4 weeks, then fermented at controlled, cool temperatures before aging. With an alcohol level of 14.18% and residual sugar of 191g/l, this is a well-structured wine with tons of flavor on the palate. The season began late, with cooler than average temperatures, leading to a slow and even ripening of the grapes, thus enhancing the sugar-acid balance as well as aromatic maturation. The rich, volcanic soil, so typical of the Pantelleria region, gives a richness and balance to the wine, which tastes sweet on first impression, but deepens in passionate flavor and complexity with each sip. Tastings of Ben Rye
2010 and 2006 only intensified the experience!