Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria 2013
There are people out there who use and practise the term "Dry January," abstaining from alcohol for a month after the indulgences of the Christmas period. That doesn't sound like fun at all. My grandmother always said, "Everything in moderation." A more sensible approach is to drink sensibly over Christmas and continue to do so in January: enjoy life rather than punishing yourself.
So, to indulge in my own extremes, the wine of the week is one that most people other than myself would not consider drinking in January - which means they're missing out on one of the great, unique wines of the world.
It comes from a tiny volcanic island near to Tunisia but belonging to Sicily called Pantelleria. There are two styles of wine made there, one called Moscato di Pantelleria and the other Passito di Pantelleria. They're both made from the Muscat of Alexandria grape, which on the island is called Zibibbo. Moscato di Pantelleria is the lighter version, with a minimum residual sugar of 68g/L and alcohol of 11%. The sweetness comes from drying the grapes after harvest to concentrate the levels of sugar. Better producers raisin the grapes for ten to twelve days, a practice which is extended for the lusher, richer Passito di Pantelleria. This is the great wine of the island, the grapes dried for up to 30 days, with a minimum residual sugar of 100g/L and alcohol of 14%.
This historic style has been revived since the 1990s, not least by producer Donnafugata who are based in Sicily. They own 68ha of land on Pantelleria, with 100-year-old low-trained bush vines protected from the wind by walls built from the island's volcanic lava stone. The grapes are picked in late August to retain fresh acidity and then dried for three to four weeks. These are added to must from grapes picked in September and it takes until the end of November for the fermentation to complete. Residual sugar is 193g/L: this is a lusciously sweet wine, an amber colour, with intense, concentrated aromas of dried fruits, hazelnuts, caramel, toffee, and fudge, lifted by an acidity not always found in Muscat wines.
Rather than going dry in one of the coldest, wettest, most miserable months of the year, go sweet - I can't think of anything more ideal for the winter weather.
Price: $45 (375ml)
Grape Variety: Zubibbo (Muscat of Alexandria)
Region: Passelleria, Sicily
Ageing: 7 months in old, large vats
Food pairing: hard cheese; ice cream; chocolate; sticky toffee pudding