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Italian delicacies: Passito di Pantelleria

Italian delicacies: Passito di Pantelleria

Find out more about the Sicilian wine made up with grapes that were assigned Cultural Heritage status from UNESCO: did you know it's completely made manually?

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Sun, sun and yet more sun. This is the first word that comes to mind when we think of Passito di Pantelleria wine. In fact, this precious wine is produced on the eponymous island in South Italy, extending for a mere 83 sq km right in the heart of the Mediterranean sea between Sicily and Tunisia.

Also known as “the yellow gold of Pantelleria” this wine is syrupy, sweet, aromatic, scented and intense. A gem of Italian Passito wines, it acquired DOC status in 1971.

History of Passito

Surrounded by an almost magical and ancestral aura, the production of Passito di Pantelleria wine on the island dates back almost two thousand years when, in 200 B.C., the Carthaginian general Magone described the production of what was a primitive version of Pantelleria’s yellow gold.

Where is Passito from

The regulations governing its production are very strict. The entire process must take place on the island. Not only must the grape growing take place in Pantelleria, but all the wine making processes as well, comprising the drying of the grapes and bottling.

In 2014, the bush-trained grape vines of Pantelleria were assigned Cultural Heritage status by UNESCO. The landscape is profoundly shaped by grape growing activities and man has successfully integrated nature and production. The type of cultivation is quite unique consisting of very low-trained bushes.

The young plants are cultivated in hollows, a sort or large hole in the land, beneath sea level to protect them from the Scirocco wind and salt and to retain moisture. For all of these reasons, the island’s wine growing activity has been defined as “heroic”. Each step in the process is carried out manually because the terraces are often very steep and precipitous, requiring three times the amount of work normally involved in vineyards positioned on more even ground.

Passito wine making

Passito di Pantelleria is produced exclusively from Zibibbo grapes. When harvesting takes place in September, the land is arid and the production scarce: no more than one and a half kilos per plant, for a maximum production capacity of 10 quintals per hectare.

Average production stands at 70-120 quintals per hectare. Hence the use of the adjective “heroic”. Following the harvest, the best clusters are selected and left to dry in the stinnituri, the same kind of drying apparatus used in the production of dried tomatoes and figs. However, the drying may also take place while the grape clusters are still on the plants.

Passito di Pantelleria is entirely or partially produced from grapes which have undergone drying processes of these types, which usually last about twenty days until the weight of the grapes, owing to the effects of the heat and wind, falls to 60% of their original weight. Then the grapes are crushed and left to rest for several months in steel vats. By law, Passito di Pantelleria may not be marketed any earlier than 1 July of the year following the grape harvest. The wine may only be bottled in corked glass vessels, with a capacity of 0.375, 1 litre or one and a half litres.

How to pair Passito wine

Its fine golden yellow colour with amber reflections appeals instantly. Its fragrance is fruity and aromatic, recalling dried figs and ripe fruit. It is possible to perceive hints of candied orange, dates, honey, raisins and myrtle, as well as a slight sensation of piquancy.

On the palate it is creamy, beaded with the subtle sweetness of jam and honey and refreshed by citrusy notes. The best way to enjoy it is cold, at a temperature of 10-12°C. It is excellent accompanied with mignon pastries, almond biscuits, cakes and tarts, especially the renowned Sicilian sweets and pastries. It contrasts pleasingly with open tarts containing acidulous fruit such as blackcurrants, forest fruits or marmalade.

It pairs up particularly well with blue or pungent cheese varieties. A classical pairing is with foie gras. It is considered to be a great “meditation” wine, intended for sipping slowly.


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