Italian Island Wine Speak with Vinisola #ItalianFWT

Isole di Pantelleria Italy campobello vineyardWelcome to spring and the April edition of Italian Food, Wine and Travel. We’re off to the Italian islands! Read more articles about island wines from our group of writers and explorers after my article below.

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Researching this topic I discovered Italy has about 350 sea islands! Several of them make wine and some I bet you know:

  • Sicily (Sicilia)
  • Salina and Stromboli (off the northeastern Sicilian Coast)
  • Pantelleria (off the southwestern Sicilian Coast)
  • Sardinia (Sardegna to Italians)
  • Ischia and Capri (off the Campanian coast)
  • Elba (off the Tuscan coast)
  • Lipari
Sicily Sicilia Pantelleria Island

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean. It’s surrounded by smaller islands in the Ionian, Mediterranean, and Tyrrhenian seas. Here you can see Salina and Stromboli on the north east side, and Pantelleria directly below the western tip. Photo source:

Of these islands my focus here is the largest Sicilian satellite, Pantelleria. It might not have the allure of Sicily however noteworthy wines are coming from its soil.

Isle di Pantelleria regione sicilianaPantelleria floats off the southwest corner of Sicily close to Africa. With nowhere near the number of visitors anyone wanting a quieter (wine) trip is in luck. If you like capers your luck doubles. Pantelleria capers and caper berries are reputed the best in the world.


Sun, Sea, Salt, Wind… and Zibibbo

Sitting in the middle of the Mediterranean means an abundance of sun and sea. Along with these comes salt and wind: the hot ‘Scirocco’ wind. It blows strong and dry and vines were traditionally planted in shallow holes known as conche, training them low to the ground for protection. Viticulture revolves around protecting vines and almost everything is done by hand.

Geek Info Alert! This is a form of alberello vine training. I remembered it for my latest exam by the ‘lo’, meaning low to the ground. In Pantelleria it’s called Alberello Pantesco and UNESCO added it to their Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2014. It’s basically bush vines in a shallow hole. Many vignerons maintain conche vineyards today. And terraced vineyards on steep hills are also common.

The Island specializes in a centuries old wine with ancient Arab, Greek, and Italian roots. The responsible grape is Zibibbo (aka Moscato di Alexandria, or Muscat of Alexandria), a member of the Muscat family. Zibibbo stems from the Arabic word raisin, ‘zabib’.

Moscato di Alexandria Muscat grape bunch

                    Plump, ripe Zibibbo grapes ready for harvest on Pantelleria, held here by Rizzo’s son Alessandro.

Vines ranging from several to more than 100 years old produce highly aromatic, full and sweet historic wines. Today dry (secco) and half-dry wines are popular too.

Vinisola Comes To Life

For this article I contacted Francesco Rizzo, seen here in one of the Vinisola vineyards, to learn more about him and the operation.

Like many wineries in Italy, it started with family. Rizzo grew up near Campobello where his family has a vineyard. Some years later after returning, he and five friends, also from the island, sat around a table over a glass of wine discussing their common interest: a deep love for Pantelleria, its uncontaminated agricultural environment, and Zibibbo. Together they started Vinisola Winery. Oenologist and agricultural expert Antonio d’Aietti is their winemaker. The approach to making wine is a reflection of their passion: respect for Pantelleria tradition and agriculture, and the pure expression of Zibibbo.

While a few of them have minor vineyard holdings, they source additional grapes from owners of other small vineyards on the island. Total production is about 48,000 bottles (375 hectoliters).

Their first vintage was 2011 with three offerings that featured the star grape of the island, Zibibbo: Arbaria Passito di Pantelleria (one of the great sweet wines of the world), Zefiro Pantelleria Bianco (dry white), and Pantelleria Moscato Liquoroso (fortified wine), all made from Zibibbo and all DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta or Protected Denomination of Origin) wines. Since then, they added others to the core line up including Shalai, a charmant method Spumante Demi-Sec that had disappeared from the island. So successful (they initially produced just 3,000 bottles), more equipment was purchased to double Shalai production.

They are certainly on the right track! Each vintage of Arbaria earned awards since 2011. Most recently Decanter gave a 95 score to the 2015 vintage.

Tasting Pantelleria

All vines on the island are non-irrigated. In the winemaking process, Vinisola uses indigenous yeasts only for fermentation.

Zefiro Pantelleria Bianco DOP – 100% Zibibbo

On the nose I pick up medium intensity aromas of citrus, Mediterranean scrub, orange blossom, and spice notes with a savory quality. Flavors of citrus prickle the tongue, giving way to ginger and a saline quality on the medium length finish.

A seamless pairing with a simple dish: wilted kale, avocado, sardines and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Vòte e Firrìa Rosato Frizzante, Terre Sicilian IGP – 85% Perricone 15% Zibibbo

Vinisola Rosato Vota e Firria Terre Siciliene IGP wine Pantelleria

In Pantelleria farmers call the Perricone grape ‘Nero Nostrale’. The grapes for this rosato are from 65 year old, own-rooted vines.

The color is a bit lighter than in this photo, more of a deep strawberry. Aromas of red berries and rose abound. Flavors are also dominated by red berries with the addition of savory herbal notes and tart acidity. There’s a slight tannic feel, bright acidity, and a refreshing tingle that lift the wine, making it linger endlessly.

A dry, frizzante wine (small bubbles, less than a sparkling wine or Champagne) I’d happily invite to any table!

Arbaria Passito di Pantelleria DOP 2012 – 100% Zibibbo

Vinisola Passito di Pantellaria DOC Italy dessert winePassito di Pantelleria is one of Italy’s great dessert wines. Two harvests are completed to produce the style.

Early August, part of the grapes are harvested then laid on mats or shallow wooden crates called ‘graticci’. These are placed in open air spots to dry in the sun (the appassimento method). As they shrivel and loose water, flavors and sugars concentrate. A second harvest takes place late August but the grapes are immediately processed. During their fermentation the sun dried grapes are added. The end result is a concentrated and complex, ageworthy wine.

The 2012 vintage has abundant orange blossom, caramel and coffee aromas. On the palate lush citrus fruits, figs, and honey mingle with creme caramel then slide into almond notes on the finish. Complex, rich, and delicious. Mark and I sipped this chilled, sharing it with a friend on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Viticulture Is Difficult On Pantelleria

It’s a wonder viticulture survived on the island. Unfortunately production decreased in the mid 2000s, so much that not much Passito di Pantelleria was made. But committed individuals like Rizzo and his partners, and other larger Sicilian winery investments like Donnafugata keep it and other Pantelleria wine alive. I’m glad to highlight this smaller producer. If interested in Vinisola wines, contact them here. Also, Visit Sicily has abundant information about Pantelleria for anyone interested to know more.

~~~ Italian Food, Wine, and Travel Group Chats Up Italian Island Wines ~~~

Join me and the following writers on Twitter Saturday, April 6th at 11am EDT, 17:00 in Italy for an Italian island wine chat. Follow us there using the hashtag #ItalianFWT You can ask questions and/or leave comments as you wish! Here’s what we have in store, all articles will be live this Saturday.

Steven from Steven’s Wine and Food Blog features Sicilian Pasta con le Sarde Wine Pairing #ItalianFWT

Linda from My Full Wine Glass offers From Sardegna to Sicilia by Sea – Two Pairings (#ItalianFWT)

Pinny at Chinese Food and Wine Pairings explores Sicily’s Marsala Wine – A New Product (Wine) Life Cycle that Started in the 18th Century but Continues to Thrive Today! #ItalianFWT

Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla recollects Island Memories, Slow-Roasted Lamb, and Cannonau Di Sardegna

Lynn from Savor The Harvest is in the mood for Italian Island Wine Speak with Vinisola #ItalianFWT

Cindy from Grape Experiences reveals Discovering Liquid Gold from Sardinia and Sicily at Chicago’s Coda di Volpe

Jennifer from VinoTravels shares the story of The Cultural Heritage of Mamuthone and Cannonau of Cantina Giuseppe Sedilesu

Susannah from Avvinare invites readers to Discover Aleatico from the island of Elba

Wendy from A Day In the Life on the Farm makes Oven Roasted Salmon with Tarragon Tartar Sauce paired with a Sicilian Grillo

Lauren from The Swirling Dervish discusses Island Wines of Italy: Alghero Torbato from Sardegna

Gwen from Wine Predator features Island Wines of Italy: 4 from Sicily paired with pizza ItalianFWT

Jeff from FoodWineClick is Dreaming of Italian Islands While We Wait for Spring

Martin from ENOFYLZ Wine Blog cooks up Sardinian Vermentino di Gallura Paired With Shrimp and Asparagus Risotto 

Nicole from Somm’s Table crafts A Passion for Sicily with Passopisciaro

Jane from Always Ravenous is Tasting and Pairing Sicilian Wine From Mount Etna

Jill our host at L’Occasion features Speaking of Sicily, Italy’s Island Wines In Conversation


21 thoughts on “Italian Island Wine Speak with Vinisola #ItalianFWT

  1. Lauren

    So many interesting nuggets in this post, I don’t know where to start! But, I have to admit, that Rosato Frizzante of Perricone and Zibibbo has my full attention. If it’s available in the US, I will find it! Great post, Lynn. Cheers!

    1. Lynn Post author

      I just Coravined a second taste of that very wine this evening. I can tell you it might just be my new apero wine! Not available in the US yet but keep your fingers crossed.

    2. Francesco Rizzo

      Hi Lauren, I’m Francesco, the owner of Vinisola winery. We are not distributed in the US but we are doing some sales to private people with our e-commerce. You can pick-up VOTA e FIRRIA, the Rosato Frizzante of Perricone and Zibibbo using it.. Go to: and than choose US for “spedizione”/shipping to. And enjoy it. Unfortunately delivery costs are still a little bit high

  2. Steven

    Excellent exploration and photos of Pantelleria and it’s wines. Will definitely check out Vinisola. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Lynn Post author

      And thanks for stopping by Steven! It’s a small place with big hearts and flavors.

  3. Pinny Tam

    It’s good to learn committed individuals fighting adversity from the nature and continuing believing in their land and wine heritage. A motiving story!

    1. Lynn Post author

      There was so much more in my exchange with Francesco. Perhaps a future post. Glad you liked the story Pinny ;-D

  4. Allison Wallace

    Another wonderful article exploring a region we know very little about…curiosity absolutely piqued! I wonder if we’re able to find any of these wines around here, although I’m not hugely optimistic. Ah well, just requires a future AdVINEture ;). Thanks so much for the lesson!

    1. Lynn Post author

      I didn’t know much about Pantelleria either. And I can firmly say Mark and I need to go to Savor the Harvest there, perhaps together?!?

  5. Jennifer Martin

    I’ve only had the sweet wines of Pantelleria so was nice to read about some others. I can only imagine how their backs hurt after harvesting those grapes. I saw something similar when I was in Greece and they were circular wreaths on the ground.

    1. Lynn Post author

      It was my first sweet and dry wine from this island. I particularly liked the Frizzante, my husband called it the ultimate aperó wine. The backs- no kidding!

    1. Lynn Post author

      Ha, ha! Yes, I learned a lot from the whole group this month, geeky stuff and all.

  6. Pingback: ‘300 Days of Sunshine’: The Vineyards of Sicilia DOC Interview with Alberto Tasca – L'OCCASION


    Wow! Thanks for the introduction to Zibibbo Lynn (does it go another name in other places in Italy?). Great overview. And I love the sound of all the wines, especially the Passito di Pantelleria!

    1. Lynn Post author

      I’ll have to do additional research to answer your question Martin. It’s also called Moscato d’Alessandria or Moscato di Alessandria in Italy. And in other countries: Moscato di Pantelleria; Moscatel de Alejandria (in Spain), Moscatel de Setubal (in Portugal), Muscat d’Alexandrie (in France), Muscat Gordo Blanco (in Australia), Muscat of Alexandria (US).


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