Story and photos by Dr. Michael Lim The Travelling Gourmet TM
Copyright all rights reserved
Precious Pearl of Southern Italy!
The suave and debonair Travelling Gourmet jets to Italy on…
MARVELLOUS Turkish Airlines to Venice…After a splendid sojourn in Venice where I stayed at the Danieli, I flew to an island known as the home of The Godfather to be stunned by the yummie food and wine of Sicily…
SICILY is the largest of the Italian islands! The Strait of Messina separates it from the mainland of Italy. Sicilia is surrounded by the Mediterranean, Ionian & the Tyrrhenian Seas.
Nature has graciously endowed many wonders to this majestic island…titanic Volcanoes like Mount Etna, majestic mountains, crystal clear aquamarine seas…Plus many precious gems like rubies and emeralds cast from a giant’s hand. These are the picturesque islands scattered around the coasts of Sicily. The Aeolians, Egadi & Pelagie Islands, Ustica and unique Isola di Pantelleria.
Donnafugata’s Historic Cellars in Marsala since 1851!
Before visiting remote Pantelleria, I was in Marsala, which is one hour’s drive from Palermo. I went to the celebrated Donnafugata winery for a fascinating VIP tour. Donnafugata means “woman in flight” and refers to Queen Maria Carolina, who fled Napoleon’s troops to find refuge in Sicily, where the winery’s vineyards are. The winery is a typical Mediterranean “baglio” with a courtyard dotted with citrus and olive trees. The spotless cellars are 7m underground with French oak barrels to age the wines was very impressive. The temperature is kept at a constant 15 -16 C. Founded by the late Giacomo Rallo, the winery is run today by his charming daughter Jose, her brother Antonio and his wife Gabriella. After the tour, it was time for a special Wine Tasting of Donnafugata’s fine wines. Tancredi a red wine made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Nero d’Avola had balanced sweet oak nuances with licorice, cherries and fine tannins. With Tancredi I tried a tasty Sicilian Fish dish called Pesce di Scollo. Mille e una Notte (a thousand and one nights) red wine was like a cherry enrobed in chocolate with complex flavours of ripe red cherries, prune compote and a savoury finish. It is made with Nero d’Avola, Petit Verdot and Syrah. It was perfetta with Torta di Parmigiano e Melanzane (eggplant and parmesan pie). Ben Rye Passito di Pantelleria was heavenly with its velvety texture, sweet apricots, intense toffee and caramel flavours and long finish. This lovely wine is superb with Blue Cheese and desserts like Sicilian Cannoli.
I also went to explore Marsala and its huge Cathedral. The Porta Garibaldi is where Garibaldi landed on 11, May 1860 to begin the reunification of Italy. It is called the ‘landing of the thousand’ in Italian history. The thriving Old Market selling everything from Capers, Almonds, to Frutti di Mare (seafood) is also fascinating.
In Marsala, I stayed in lovely Hotel Carmine in a courtyard by Carmine Church. One spring morning, my Breitling titanium watch woke me at 06:00. A quick jog and it was off to Trapani Airport. It was a short flight from Trapani airport near Marsala to Pantelleria. It was off to a flying start as soon as I touched down on Pantelleria! With mio amico, dynamic Baldo Palermo at the wheel, we drove along winding roads like a serpent’s tail 200m ASL (above sea level) and soon arrived at the historic Donnafugata winery. On the way we stopped to admire the views of the rugged coastline which reminded me of the movie, The Count of Monte Cristo. Baldo is a goldmine of information about Pantelleria and he pointed out Giorgio Armani’s luxury villa framed by palm trees near the sea. In a small but highly manoeuvrable Fiat panda expertly driven by Baldo, we explored every nook and cranny of this historic, amazing and rugged island! I was very happy to explore the wind swept island of Pantelleria southwest of Sicily, the biggest island in the Mediterranean.
In 1989, the late Giacomo Rallo got the brilliant idea for a winery on this rugged volcanic island while hunting for rabbits. He thought of planting the Zibibo or Muscat of Alexandria grape to make special wines. Now Donnafugata has 14 vineyards all over the island and harvest starts between mid Aug to Sept every year.
This was where I found myself one cool sunny windswept day in Spring. I was on the Isola di Pantelleria in Sicily but there were no members of the dreaded La Cosa Nostra around…The air was cool. The wind strong. Very strong. Pantelleria is remarkable for its beauty and rugged coastline, and one of its wonders is the incredible awesome wines from Tenuta Donnafugata. The vineyards have vines nestled within ‘foxholes’ surrounded by scents, flavours, flora and fauna of pristine nature at its finest. The ‘foxholes’ much like those used by the US Marines in WW2 serve to protect the precious grapevines from the incredibly strong winds! I saw many bamboo wind breaks which protect the vines from the wind. This is especially needed when the vines are flowering in April and May.
Here I saw first hand the ‘heroic viticulture’ and winemaking of trend-setting Donnafugata which creates some FABULOUS wines like one of my personal favourites…Ben Rye. Ben Rye means ‘son of the wind’. How apt because Pantelleria means ‘daughter of the wind’! Believe me, Passito (dried) di Pantelleria is the most delicious and yummy dessert wine that is perfetta with cheese and foie gras and much more! Passito means “dried’ in Italian. The grapes are dried first to concentrate the flavours before being made into wine. They undergo temeprature controlled fermentation in stainless steel tanks with specially selected yeasts.
In Khamma contorda or district I visited the historic Winery of Donnafugata and saw up close the small cute ‘bonsai’ Zibibo or Muscat of Alexandria vines…many over 100 years old! The 68ha of amazing vineyards are perched on rugged hilly ground. The vineyards are at an altitude of 130 to 200 m above sea level. There are also other vineyards with Zibibo in the Mueggen, Punta Karace, Ghirlanda and other districts. The hardy vines really reminded me of Japanese “bonsai” trees. The “alberello pantesca” (bush trained vine) is listed as a UNESCO world heritage “highly sustainable and creative agricultural practice”. My most favourite wine from Sicily is undoubtedly the seductive Passito di Pantelleria Ben Rye…Once tasted, NEVER forgotten. Like the luscious kiss of a beautiful beloved woman, it is forever in your mind…calling you back to her warm arms.
For those who love wines, food, history and culture, seductive and splendid Sicily is a fantastic place to visit. Go there soon, and sing “Parla piu piano” (love theme of The Godfather) 😊
Donnafugata Historical Cellars and Winery
Via S. Lipari 18