Donnafugata: Sicily’s joie de vivre
You may be familiar with the wines of Sicily, if not, we’ll tell you more about them here. Often, these have a bad reputation, but this tends to change especially with the Wines of Sicilia DOC, especially with winemakers like Donnafugata, whose magnificent products I was able to taste last fall. Follow me to sunny Sicily in this cold and snowy February.
Donnafugata: An historical vineyard
The original estate was founded in 1851 in Marsala, in western Sicily. The latter, the birthplace of the Italian mafia as depicted in the films “The Godfather,” entered the world of wine with enthusiasm, following in the footsteps of English entrepreneurs. The family’s historical cellars in Marsala, mentioned in the introduction, became the beating heart of a new entrepreneurial activity in 1983: Donnafugata, founded by Giacomo Rallo, the fourth generation of a family with more than 170 years of experience in exceptional wine, together with his wife Gabriella, a pioneer in Sicilian viticulture, and now run by their children José and Antonio, with a team of passionate people committed to excellence.
Sicily, an island located in the centre of the Mediterranean, is a wine-growing mainland with extraordinary potential. Donnafugata is the embodiment of this diversity and develops its vineyards in very different contexts: from land overlooking the sea, to hilly and mountainous areas, aiming at the best combination of terroir and grape varieties (more than 20, even outside Sicily).
The company has an historic winery and four estates. In western Sicily, in Contessa Entellina, where Donnafugata was founded, there is a winery, 302 hectares of vineyards and nine hectares of olive groves; in Pantelleria, a volcanic island between Sicily and Africa, the winery in the district of Khamma hosts 68 hectares of Zibibbo vines which are cultivated as low bush vines called “alberello pantesco” (UNESCO—intangible cultural heritage) and five hectares of grove olive trees. In eastern Sicily, in Randazzo, on the northern slopes of Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe, there is a vineyard with a barrel cellar comprising 35 hectares of vines and two hectares of grove of olive trees. In the DOC Vittoria area, in Acate, the latest generation winery is surrounded by 36 hectares of vineyards. Finally, the legendary family cellars of Marsala are an example of a productive reality that is constantly updated. Here it is possible to visit the scenographic underground barrel cellar. All this history and its various regions are reflected in the different wines.
An overview of some of the Donnafugata wines
Rosa 2021 — Donnafugata and Dolce&Gabbana
We were welcomed with the beautiful rosé wine, the Rosa 2021 from the collection of wines born from the partnership between Donnafugata and Dolce&Gabbana, both of which are extraordinary ambassadors of Sicily: in addition to the Rosa, there is the Tancredi, the Cuordilava and the Isolano.
Let’s get back to Rosa. Dolce&Gabbana, fascinated by this inimitable colour, strongly desired the production of a rosé, and the name Rosa was chosen to underline its unique personality. And even Donnafugata has created a new blend of two Sicilian grape varieties. Dolce&Gabbana’s creativity took up the challenge of telling the story of this prestigious wine, taking care of its coordinated image: the immediately recognizable graphics of the materials are inspired by the Sicilian caricature, which represents the island’s craftsmanship, culture and tradition throughout the world.
In the bottle, we find an original blend of two red grape varieties, among the most representative of Sicilian viticulture: Nerello Mascalese and Nocera.
Nerello Mascalese, grown on volcanic soil, expresses minerality and a refined floral component. It is very suitable for the production of rosé wines.
Nocera is an old, almost forgotten variety with a prestigious past. After years of experimentation, Donnafugata has planted it in its hillside vineyards. Here, Nocera achieves ideal sugar ripeness with a high level of acidity, resulting in a wine with a captivating fruity bouquet.
With its bright pale pink colour, the wine has an elegant bouquet of Jasmine and rose petals, with delicate notes of peach and white flesh fruits. With a pleasant, mineral and fine fragrance, it surprises with its remarkable persistence.
Perfect for aperitifs with a delicious burrata, raw fish such as Antonio Park sushi and delicate meats. Excellent at 10–12 °C.
- 75 % Nerello Mascalese
- 25 % Nocera
Anthìlia 2021 Sicilia DOC Bianco
This Donnafugata classic is loved all over the world. The 2021 vintage is characterized by a fresh and fragrant bouquet with fruity and floral notes. A very versatile wine, ideal with fish and starters. This wine is based on Lucido (synonymous with Catarratto), the predominant variety; the blend is finished with other autochthonous and international varieties.
Anthìlia 2022 has a straw yellow colour. The nose offers a fresh and fragrant bouquet with notes of peach combined with wild flowers. On the palate there is the obvious fruity note, refreshed by a pleasant sapidity. The finish has good persistence and this wine will be at its best for the next 3 years.
For pairings, it is perfect with raw or fried fish and is a delight with fresh cheeses and white meats, be daring and try the fried chicken, the delicious one of Roch le Coq in Montréal, for example. Serve in glasses of medium size and height; it can be uncorked at the time of tasting at a temperature between 9 and 11 °C.
- 75 % Lucido
- 15 % Ansonica
- 10 Grillo
Two wines from Etna
Sul Vulcano 2020 Etna Bianco DOC
Let’s continue with a white wine of great elegance and complexity from the volcanic region of Etna.
The composition of the sandy-textured lavic soil of the Etna region offers a sub-acid-neutral reaction, with a good organic endowment. Deep, rich in minerals, this soil allows for strong root growth. This area of northern Etna is distinguished by lower rainfall than the average for the other slopes of the volcano. Summers are cool, with large temperature differences between day and night.
Straw-yellow in colour with golden highlights, Sul Volcano has a refined bouquet with mineral notes of flint, citrus, tangerine and delicate tertiary notes of honey and hay due to long ageing.
On the palate, it is enveloping, fresh and tasty, portrayed by a minerality and a marked persistence; this wine has great finesse and complexity. You can preserve it for more than 10 years.
For your food and wine pairing, it is the ideal complement to shellfish, vegetarian starters and mushrooms. Serve at 10–12 °C.
- 100 % Carricante
Sul Vulcano 2020 Etna Rosso DOC
Sul Vulcano 2019 is surprisingly slim, reflecting the typical characteristics of Etna.
The bottle contains Nerello Mascalese, the main red grape variety native to Etna, and a small percentage of Nerello Cappuccio.
Pale ruby red in colour, Sul Vulcano has an elegant bouquet with notes of red fruit (raspberries and cherries) accompanied by fresh balsamic mint and delicate spicy hints of white pepper.
The palate is fresh and well structured, with silky tannins and a balanced and persistent finish. It can easily be kept for more than 5 years.
For the meal, this is a wine that is a wonderful compliment to Mediterranean antipasti and starters with aubergine or mushrooms, meats and stews. The pairing possibilities are numerous: from chicken wings for your Super Bowl party guests or a midweek burger to medium-spicy Asian dishes like beef, stir-fries and dumplings, this wine is a winner. Try to serve it at 18 °C.
- 100% Nerello Mascalese
The Ben Ryé, our discovery
Finally, a nice surprise, a favourite, the Ben Ryé, a dessert wine from the island of Pantelleria where alberello, a type of culture, is a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.
Ben Ryé has an extraordinarily rich bouquet with exceptional aromas obtained from sultanas: apricots and candied orange peel. On the palate, it offers countless sensations ranging from fruity fragrances to delicate notes of the Mediterranean scrubland, with an extraordinary freshness that balances the sweetness. Its complexity is enriched by a tasty and very persistent finish.
Ben Ryé has a golden colour with bright amber highlights. The intense bouquet ranges from fruity notes of apricot and candied orange peel to hints of Mediterranean maquis. On the palate, the fruity herbal notes are combined with sweet hints of honey. Intense and persistent, with an extraordinary balance between freshness and sweetness, Ben Ryé is a captivating Passito di Pantelleria, one of the most admired wines in the world. You can keep it for over 30 years.
As a dessert wine, it excels with dry pastries, chocolate and jam or ricotta pies. Try it also with blue cheese and foie gras. It is also extraordinary on its own as a tasting wine. It is best served in medium-sized, slightly bellied tulip-shaped glasses; uncork just before serving; at its best at 14 °C
- 100 % Muscat d’Alexandrie
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With notes from Donnafugata. Learn more about the different estates here.