Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere
PANTELLERIA, SICILY--This tropical island on the Mediterranean Sea just north of the coast of Africa is home to one of the most deliciously intriguing wines of all of Sicily. Donnafugata Lighea Zibibbo (Muscat of Alexandria) 2012 ($20), is a dry expression of the Muscat grape historically associated with the lush, sweet Marsala wines for which the region is famous. Donnafugata has 168 acres planted with Zibibbo. The winery, in the Khamma district, is a shining example of sustainable architecture. Grape growing and harvesting is almost entirely done by hand, much of it in challenging conditions involving steep, terraced hillside vineyards and grapes grown in low bushes hunkered down in basins of hollowed out earth to protect them from the island's intense dry winds. The vines are stressed by the dry, windy climate, in which rain falls but a few scant days a year. Most of their moisture is derived from the damp, humid air that blankets the island every morning and evening. Donnafugata is the leader in the cultivation of the Zibibbo grape. The grape grower's work at Pantelleria is one of the last examples of heroic viticulture in the Mediterranean. In 1999, Donnafugata reclaimed a 17.5 acre vineyard of Zibibbo with non-grafted vines that were more than 100 years old. These Zibibbo grapes in the Khamma district are resistant to drought, limestone and salinity and produce an harmonious grape quality that is exceptional. Growing in the rich, volcanic soil of the region, they are resistant to the virulent vine pest phylloxera. These vines are an historic find that is one of the legacies of biodiversity as borne out in studies carried out by Prof. Mario Fregoni of the Catholic University of Placenza.
Donnafugata has launched a new research project dedicating an experimental vineyard of 33 bio-types o the Zibibbo grapes (Muscat of Alexandria. These experiments are designed to enhance the preservation of this rare and historic variety. Under the supervision of Prof. Attilio Scienza, bio-types of Muscat of Alexandria were chosen in Spain, France, Greece and southern Italy and planted in the hills high above sea level. These experiments will further enhance efforts to identify clones of Zibibbo that will increase Pantelleria's viticulture potential.
Donnafugata Lighea is the perfect wine for light, summertime cuisine. It's great with seafood and with grilled or sauteed vegetables. A terrific local Sicilian dish is Caponata, a dish that can be served hot or cold and which features a mixture of fresh, local ingredients that vary according to the season and the whim of the preparer. The most popular versions usually involve eggplant, or aubergine, as they're called here locally, and copious amounts of capers, onions and olives and, of course, olive oil. Here's the recipe to one I sampled at the restaurant La Favorata in the hills above the winery at Pantellaria.
To learn more about Lighea and Caponata, visit www.donnafugata.it.
Warm Caponata with toasted almonds
Ingredients serve 4
4 aubergines (eggplants) diced
1 medium-sized white onion,diced
2 ozs. black olives
2 ounces sliced, toasted almonds
1 small jar of capers packed in oil
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 celery stalks, diced
1 tablespoon vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar (optional, although the sweet-sour contrast is central to the flavor of the dish)
3 tablespoons tomato sauce
1 cup water
2 tablespoons oil for sauteeing
Mediterranean sea salt to taste
Peel and dice the eggplant into 1/2 inch cubes. Salt and sweat them for about an hour. Combine them with the diced celery and in a frying pan with the cooking oil and the water and sautee' over moderate
heat until the water evaporates. Add the capers, olives and optional sugar and tomato sauce and simmer for 15 minutes. Fry the eggplant in oil separately and drain excess oil before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and serve with chilled Donnafugarta Lighea and enjoy. Buon Appetito!