Sicily, Mediterranean Sea’s largest island, enjoys a long and glorious wine history since ancient Greek traders brought vines.
The land is suitable, with dry, hot summers and mild winters.
In the 20th century, large co-operative wineries committed an error by producing quantity and exporting in bulk.
Towards the end of the century, however, forward looking wealthy entrepreneurs recognized the value of marketing quality wine and started a welcome movement of upgrading the industry.
One of the first of these entrepreneurs was Giacomo Rallo, who with his wife, founded Donnafugata in 1983 with the objective to producing premium wines exclusively.
Suitable land was purchased (360 hectares) in western Sicily, close to the Marsala region. From the very beginning, the winery was planned, selecting grape varieties according to soil types on the land. The exclusive vineyards of Entelina are located 37.7 degrees latitude north, at 200 metres above sea level, and composed of clay with limestone (10 – 30 per cent), chalky and clay mixed with chalk, potassium, iron, zinc and manganese.
Summers are hot, with diurnal temperature variations of 20 C or more with a 550 mm. precipitation per annum.
Donnafugata’s vine concentration in vineyards is 4000 – 6000 per hectare and yields are capped at seven to eight tones to achieve desirable colour, depth of flavour, and sufficiently high sugar levels. For white wines proven indigenous and international varieties like ansonica, catartto, grecanico, damaschino, sauvignon banc, and chardonnay are planted.
For reds nero d’avola, perricone, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah are preferred.
Donnafugata also owns vineyards on the island of Pantelleria, east of Sicily and close to Tunisia, where moscato d’Alssandria here called zibbibo, thrives.
The 53 hectares owned by Donnafugata on lava soil rich in phosphors, potassium and zinc, yield extraordinary dessert wines. A small winery has been purpose-built to process the harvest.
Here the summers are very hot, with mild winters, and only 450 mm. of rain making it possible to ripen grapes fully.
Harvest occurs late in an attempt to over ripen grapes, then a portion of the harvest is dried to increase the sugar concentration even higher.
Late harvest grapes are pressed and cold fermented, during which for 100 litres 50 kilograms of dried and crushed grapes are added to produce a dessert wine of distinction and refinement.
Kabir and Ben Rye are the Moscato de Pantelleria wine brands of Donnafugata. Both are sweet, fragrant, fruity, well balanced with fine underlying acidity, and long aftertaste.
Donnafugata’s dry wine portfolio consists of the following brands:
Chiranda del Merlo
Vigna di Gabri
Mille e una Notte
Over the years I have tasted many of the Donnafugata wines and concluded that all the wines reflect the terroir perfectly, are well made, blended and appealing.
Nero d’Avola – one of the best, if not the best, indigenous red grape variety of Sicily yielding wines of great richness, flavour, texture and longevity.
Ansonica (aka inzolia) is used for Marsala wines but can be fermented dry to yield light and fragrant white wines.
Cataratto yield fuller, spicier wines than those of ansonica. This grape is suitable for blends, and if fermented dry for Sicilian specialties that are influenced by Arab cuisines. Arabs inhabited the island for centuries.
Perricone yields soft wines, suitable for blending, particularly for nero d’avola which tends to be astringent.