Pantelleria produces some of Italy’s finest sweet wines. Hop onto this volcanic island off the coast of Africa to find your next sumptuous paradise.
Pantelleria: the other island
Pantelleria is a small island to the southwest of Sicily, in the Mediterranean Sea. The island is a volcanic satellite of Sicily, but hasn’t had serious volcanic activity in over a century.
While the island is only 83 square kilometers (32 sq. Miles), and has 63 hectares of total vineyards planted, the unique soils offer a terroir for the island’s famous sweet wines that stands alone.
There are no fresh water sources on the island, so all vineyards are dry-farmed. The traditional practice of vine cultivation is unique and old enough to have been added to a list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
The island’s tourist features are well worth the unique travel limitations, but any prospective visitor should be aware of the rustic nature of the island’s amenities.
What to Expect from Pantelleria
Heady aromas of honey, ginger, rose petals, jasmine, dried apricots, and nutmeg are what you can expect from the amazing wines of Pantelleria. The most famous wines from this island are sweet and made from Zibibbo, aka: Muscat of Alexandria.
Wines to know
Passito di Pantelleria
This is a lusciously sweet wine made from dried Muscat grapes with aromas of dried apricot, elderflower, ginger, and with age, nuts and honey. Very aromatic and intense, this sweet wine has refreshing acidity so it doesn’t feel too sticky.
Grape growers pick their grapes and lay them on mats in the hot sun to concentrate the sugar and flavors before they start making the wine.
Moscato di Pantelleria
This is a lighter, yet still sweet, version of Moscato from Pantelleria. The grapes are harvested late but not necessarily dried out on mats in the sun.
This means you get less dried fruit flavors and more floral and fresh fruit flavors. If you’re looking for a wine that’s a great expression of Muscat but with a bit less sugar, this is a great wine to try.
Donnafugata - Donnafugata is perhaps one of the best known wineries from Pantelleria for their wine called Ben Ryé, a Passito di Pantelleria. The estate is called Khamma winery which produces a lighter, fresher style of Passito with good acidity.
Murana - A native to Pantelleria, this winery makes wonderful sweet wines but also focuses on dry wines too if you’re looking to try some dry Muscats.
Pantelleria has a unique terroir that combines unique soils, winds, and viticultural systems. It’s so unique it’s been recognized by UNESCO. Pantelleria is young in geological terms.
It was formed about 200,000 years ago by active undersea volcanoes. This means that the soils on Pantelleria are all volcanic, which many say gives a salinity to the wines.
It’s also very warm here, being situated just 37 miles off the coast of Africa. A combination of little rainfall (12 inches per year), never ending sunshine, and very warm winds, such as the Scirocco, means that it’s tough to grow things here.
However, grape growers on Pantelleria have come up with an ingenious way to protect their vines from the strong winds, and to ensure they get enough water.
The Alberello Pantesco way of growing vines works like this:
A shallow hole is dug into the volcanic soil and the vine is planted here. It’s trained low to the ground to keep it safe from the wind.
The hole does two things, it creates a protective barrier from the wind, and it funnels any moisture and humidity that collects overnight in the form of dew towards the roots of the vine.
This unique system means vines can thrive on Pantelleria despite the arid conditions.
Did you know?
- The island is only 200,000 years old, a baby in geological terms
- Pantelleria is closer to Africa than Italy! It’s only 37 miles (60 km) from Tunisia
- The wines of Pantelleria have been praised since 1500 BC
- There’s no source of fresh drinking water on the island
- Irrigation is not possible here, all vines are dry farmed
- It takes the equivalent of 5 bottles worth of grapes to make just 1 bottle of Passito di Pantelleria.