We already know what you’re thinking…
“Raisin wines? I’ve read a lot about great Italian wines on this blog but practically all of them are made using grapes. It’s the one thing that I’d know about wine, even if I didn’t know anything else!”
And you’re right! The vast, vast majority of wines are made using grapes. However, there is a very small subsection of wines that are made using other fruits and raisin wine is one of them.
But let’s back track for a moment.
Raisin wine isn’t something that any old producer just decided to experiment with. These are wines that require a specific method to make and require great talent on the part of the producer. And as strange as it may sound, these types of wine are more common than you might think!
However, there is one region that’s perhaps better known for these wines than any other in Italy. And to explain why, we need to take you to a commune that’s located a little way away from the beautiful island of Sicily.
For those who’ve kept track of the Italian wine industry over the last few decades, you will know that Sicily has something of a mixed reputation when it comes to the quality of its wines. For years, the island was revered for producing some of the most unique wines available. However, it also went through a period where mass-produced table wines were pretty much all that came from it, which led to it gaining a poor reputation.
A lot of great producers have done amazing work to repair some of the damage done in more recent years.
But even when Sicily was labouring under this bad reputation, we still had unique wines coming to us from the commune of Pantelleria.
Pantelleria isn’t a part of the main island of Sicily itself. Instead, it’s a small island located in the Strait of Sicily that is counted as belonging to the Sicilian province of Trapani. Interestingly, the island may actually be closer to Tunisia than it is to the Italian mainland, so much so that on very clear days you can actually see the coast of Tunisia from the island.
At 32 square miles, it’s a fairly small island by regular standards. However, what sets Pantelleria apart from other islands is that it’s volcanic! Thankfully, the island hasn’t experienced an eruption since 1891, and even that one was underwater. Still, these volcanic origins are still seen in the hot springs that dot the island, as well as the very unique soil that helps to make it a wonderful place to grow grapes.
So why, then, is it raisin wine that this island is most famous for?
Well, you may be surprised to find that raisin wine is more common than you think. In fact, there’s a name that’s shared by a number of wines that fall into this category…
That’s not the case.
Passito is a blanket term that refers to any wine that’s made using raisins. And as we mentioned earlier on, these wines are actually more common than you might think. Perhaps the most famous of them is Amarone, which is made using the Passito method. This smooth Italian red wine is a jot to drink and it’s made using raisins.
Now, here’s where some of the more astute among you have already clocked onto something.
We’re talking about raisins here as though they’re some sort of individual fruit. However, any lover of raisins will tell you that they’re simply dried out grapes. And now that you know that, the mystery as to how you can make great wines using this fruit start to unfurl!
That’s not to say that it’s easy.
Due to their nature, raisins are even sweeter than regular grapes, which means that producers need to account for the extra sugar when making their wines. This, incidentally, is why Amarone is something of an outlier in the Passito family. While that wine is a smooth red, most wines made under the Passito umbrella are actually sweet wines.
And that brings is right back to the commune of Pantelleria.
The Many Influences on the Pantelleria Wines
There’s an interesting story behind the wines produced in this commune, as they were not really well known to the world for many centuries. Like many wines made in communes, they were originally kept for the locals to enjoy, often as part of religious ceremony. It was not until 1880 that the Passito wines of this island started to receive some recognition outside of the region.
That may sound like a long time ago. But when you put it into the context of other famous Italian wines, it’s actually a fairly short amount of time.
Given the island’s proximity to Tunisia, it is perhaps unsurprising that there’s an Arabic influence to mention here as well. It was from this culture that the Zibibbo grape came, which is a grape that’s rarely used in Italian wine production. And it’s this grape that the residents of Pantelleria use to make their Passito wines.
Take Passito di Pantelleria as an example.
This is a wine that’s unique in almost every way. Sweet, tasty, and almost a dessert unto itself, we recommend it as a drink to follow a rich meal, especially if you have a sweet tooth. This wine is made using the Passito method, which involves picking the grapes and laying them on straw mats to allow them to dry out. This is how we end up with the raisins that are made to use the wine.
It’s only once they’ve finished drying out that they’re crushed and placed into the fermentation processes. The result here is that you have more concentrated sugars that create interesting aromas of honey, marmalade, toffee, and cake.
There’s nothing quite like a Passito wine from Pantelleria!
If you’re searching for something a little different from regular Italian wines, give Passito di Pantelleria a try. You may just find something that makes you fall in love with this unique raisin wine.