In ancient times, the south of Italy was thought of as one of the great wine regions of the known world. Fast forward 2000 years and, by the time I started enjoying wine (in the early 1970s, if you must know!), it was a place for wine lovers to avoid. But, rather than concentrating on the bad times, I’d sooner focus on its re-emergence over the past 20 years or so and on the delicious wines you can find there now – wines that were the subject of a recent evening at the Bristol Tasting Circle, hosted by Alex Pack of Liberty Wines.
Temperatures in this part of the Mediterranean normally favour red wines over white, but Donnafugata’s rich, minerally Vigna di Gabri from Sicily was the exception: full of citrus and herb flavours with an attractive touch of bitterness, this would pair beautifully with poultry or white meats.
The reds mainly showcased the best of the local grape varieties, such as Aglianico, thought to have been originally imported into Italy by the early Greek traders, Nero di Troia and Primitivo (aka Zinfandel). Opinions on the night were divided as to the best of these with Canace’s Nero di Troia, Zolla’s Primitivo di Manduria and Vesevo’s Taurasi all getting favourable mentions, particularly as partners for robust red meat and game dishes, or with flavoursome hard cheeses.
But, the last wine of the evening stole the show for me and, I guess, many others: again from Donnafugata, their wonderful sweet but refreshing Ben Ryé has intense aromas and flavours of orange and passion fruit. Made on the tiny island of Pantelleria, off the South West coast of Sicily, this ‘Passito’ uses grapes picked and then traditionally laid out on straw mats to dry and concentrate the sugars. It must surely rank alongside some of the great sweet wines of the world.
As Liberty Wines supply the trade only, I have not given prices, but a check on, for example, the wine-searcher website will show whether any of these great bottles are available near you.