Welcome 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)
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.
Pantelleria 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’.
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
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.
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
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
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