Palermo at sunset

~ Palermo, the Capital of the Sicilian Island ~

Sicily occupies a unique position in world history.  It is Italy’s largest province and it’s capital, Palermo is thought to be the most conquered city in the world. This legacy manifests itself in the city’s architecture and cuisine which contains Arab, Spanish and Roman influences.

As part of my Heritage Series,  this Feature Article focuses on the Donnafugata winery, one of the premier estates on the island.  Scattered across Sicily, Donnafugata owns approximately 405 hectares of land divided between four vineyard locations.  Founded in 1983 by Giacomo Rallo and his wife Gabriella, today the winery is principally run by Jose and Antonio, the 5th generation of Rallos.

The Rallo Family

~ The Rallo Family from Left to Right:   Jose, Gabriella and Antonio. Sadly, Giacomo passed away in 2016 ~

The name Donnafugata means “woman in flight” and is taken from the novel Il Gattopardo about a queen who found refuge where the company’s vineyards are located.  Today, the family produces a vast amount of wine; 18 different labels in total and while it can be confusing to keep track of, the quality is undeniable.

Over the course of several months I tasted through a representative range of the family’s wines.  Each one was unique in its own right.  The labels feature colorful reminders of civilizations past and pay homage to iconic literary works.  Although some wines are blended with non-native grapes, the backbone of the wines remain indigenous Sicilian varieties.

~ The ancient Greek theater atop Taormina looks over the rocky beaches below while Mt. Etna towers and smokes in the distance ~

We began our tastings with two of the estate’s white wines.  The first was featured in my Risotto Tutorial which you can see here:  TuscanVines although the full tasting note is included below.

The 2018 Donnafugata Sur Sur is 100% Grillo fermented in stainless steel.  This medium bodied wine packs loads of tropical fruit aromas and flavors.  Pineapple, guava, white peach and citrus notes are all notable. With crisp acidity, this drinks well as an aperitif or with lighter seafood and risotto dishes.  Delicious. 91 points. Find this wine.

~ Sur Sur is made from the Grillo grape. We paired the wine with a risotto made with roasted chicken sausage and rainbow swisschard  ~

The next white was enjoyed at a local restaurant with assorted antipasti including grilled octopus, burrata cheese and fried calamari.  The 2018 Donnafugata Anthilia is nearly colorless.  Like Sur Sur, this is 100% stainless steel vinified.  Light bodied and crisp, this displays lemon, grapefruit and lychee nut aromas. On the palate the wine is clean and delicate with floral undertones to the citrus flavors.  90 points.  Find this wine.

~ Anthilia is a blend of various white grapes but is comprised mostly of the indigenous “Lucido” ~

As the tastings progressed to vino rosso, we decided to pair the next two wines with a sort of local seafood stew including swordfish, calamari, scallops and clams.

Seafood Stew

~ Swordfish, scallops, calamari and clams in a light tomato white wine broth ~

The 2017 Donnafugata Floramundi is from the Cerasulo di Vittoria DOCG appellation along the south western coast of Sicily.  Stress from heat can be an issue in this area especially given the conditions over the past few summers.  However, the inclusion of the Frappato helps retain bright freshness and acidity.

The 2017 is a light to medium violet in color.  Crushed raspberry and strawberry on the nose give way to red and blue flowers.  Light to medium bodied this is fresh and not at all tannic. Flavors follow the nose but add powdery white pepper and minerals to the package.  90 points. Maybe a bit pricey for what it is. Find this wine.

Bottle of red wine on wooden table

~ The Floramundi is a really fun bottle of red.  Crafted from Nero d’Avola and Frappato this was lively with the stew ~

I was excited to try the next wine, though I have no specific reason why!  The 2016 Donnafugata Sul Vulcano hails from Eastern Sicily on the Northern slopes of Mount Etna.  Crafted from 100% Nerello Mascalese this is vinified in stainless steel and then barrel aged for 14 months in used French oak. Bottle aged 7 months before release.

Light violet colored, the wine is almost translucent.  Crushed berry fruit and dried herbs seem to dominate the nose. On the palate the wine is light bodied and focused on tart cherry fruit that evolves into spicy pepper and turns somewhat hollow.  Mild tannins, hardly noticeable, leave this ready to drink. The dusty, peppery mineral notes from Etna’s soil come through on the finish.  This is an easy drinking wine recommended for burgers, chicken wings, stir-fry and Tex-Mex with beans.  With those types of food, I don’t expect to pay what this wine costs. Not my favorite from the lineup and not worth the tariff. 85 points.  Find this wine.

~ The marketing here is impressive. From the bottle shape, to the name and the killer label, I was all in. But the wine let me down.   At an average of $28-$35 you can find better options ~

Arabian Nights. Aladdin.  The crazy Disney genie and the virtuoso performance from maestro Robin Williams that gave life to the character all come flooding back when a bottle of this nectar is opened.  Simply put, I taste and smile.  Paired with grilled leg of lamb, we were off and running.

The 2015 Donnafugata Mille e una Notte is spectacular.  Created in 1995 by Giacomo Rallo and Giacomo Tachis, it is no wonder this wine can stand on the stage with all of Italy’s greatest reds.

Sourced from South Western Sicily, the wine is a unique blend of indigenous and international varieties. Comprised mostly of Nero d’Avola the blend includes Syrah, Petit Verdot and other red grapes.  Vinified in stainless steel, it spends up to 14 months in new French barrique before 2 years bottle aging prior to release.

Nearly opaque in color, the wine fades to a bright violet ring at the edge of the bowl.  Blue flowers, blackberry, dark cocoa powder and tobacco create a remarkable bouquet.  On the palate, the wine is full bodied with substantial architecture to admire.  Large framed tannins are persistent but not intrusive and the acidity keeps everything fresh.  Black plum and blackberry flavors are tinged with licorice, sweet tobacco and minerals.  This has so much life in it and while delicious now after decanting, this needs close to a decade to blossom fully and will easily make it that far.  A gem that is frankly a bit undervalued relative to the wines it compares with.  96 points.  Find this wine.

Red wine in a decanter

~ Mille e una Notte is a masterpiece of not only Sicilian, but Italian viticulture. It is a benchmark wine for the island and a must for lovers of Sicily ~

The craftsmanship and dedication to quality at Donnafugata are made all the more impressive when you realize the winery has only been around for a little more than 30 years.  From varied terroirs, the team produces unique wines from sustainably farmed vineyards and over 20 different grape varieties.  Not one to rest on their laurels, in 2018 Donnafugata launched three new wines from their Etna DOC appellation including one, Fragore, that has become one of the family’s iconic wines along with Mille e una Notte and the dessert wine from Pantelleria, Ben Rye.

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