Most grapes are only good for one job.
In other words, some grapes are ideal for eating. Some work best when dried into raisins. And many grapes are ideal for use when creating Italian wine. If you want an example of what we’re talking about, try eating a typical wine grape. You will usually find that it has a much tougher skin and a very different taste from the table grapes that you’re used to eating.
However, there are some grapes that can do it all.
These rare grapes are so versatile that they can be used to make Italian wine, can be served at the table for direct consumption, and make for amazing raisins.
Zibibbo is one of them.
And in this article, we’re going to share some interesting facts and tidbits about this most remarkable of grapes.
Fact #1 – It’s an Old Grape
There are many Italian wine grapes that have ancient histories. Many of them are celebrated for their age, becoming important parts of the fabric of the wine industry.
However, Zibibbo has many of them beat.
Records show that the grape has been cultivated for at least 5,000 years, making it one of the oldest grapes to still be used in today’s Italian wine industry. We suspect that the grape’s versatility, combined with its quality, has led to such an extended life.
Even more impressively, biologists suggest that the grape has managed to make it through the millennia with very few genetic modifications. That means the Zibibbo that you enjoy today tastes practically the same as it did thousands of years ago.
Fact #2 – Its Origins Lie in Egypt
Though Zibibbo now has a reputation as an Italian wine grape, its origins actually lie outside of the country. A member of the Muscat family, hence its nickname as the Muscat of Alexandria, it is believed that the grape was first cultivated in Egypt. Its origins lie in the ancient city of Alexandria. However, the grape was traded to Spanish and Italian merchants throughout the years, eventually finding its more common home of Sicily, where it is mostly grown today.
Fact #3 – It Has Three DOCs
Though we’ve just highlighted that the Sicilian version of the grape is the most famous in today’s world, there are actually three DOCs for Zibibbo.
Beyond the Sicilia DOC, the grape also has DOCs based in Erice and Patelleria. Each has its own rules in terms of where the grape is cultivated, how it is grown, and how much of the grape must be used in a Zibbibo wine. If nothing else, this further showcases the versatility of this powerful grape.
Fact #4 – Its Name Means Dry
So, how did Zibibbo get its slightly amusing name?
The name derives from the Arabic term Z’bib, which literally translates to “dried grape”. In other words, early cultivators saw the most value out of Zibbibo as a raisin. That’s not to say that Egyptians didn’t make wine using the grape. There is plenty of evidence to support the fact they did. However, it’s clear that they saw Zibibbo more as a grape that was ideal for drying before consumption. And to this day, you’re not going to struggle to find raisins made using Zibbibo.
Fact #5 – Early Cultivators Weren’t Supposed to Make Wine Using Zibibbo
You may have been alerted to the fact that Zibibbo’s name has Arabic origins. It also seems that the grape was brought to Sicily by Arabic settlers hundreds of years ago.
Of course, we know that many people from the Arabic regions are practicing Muslims. And even thousands of years ago, halal rules barring the consumption of alcohol governed Islamic practice. As such, the earliest cultivators of Zibibbo were technically banned from making wine out of it for religious purposes.
Interestingly, it doesn’t appear as though these religious laws stopped them.
Evidence suggests that making wine using Zibibbo was tolerated. Numerous Arabic poems wax lyrical about the potent strength of the wines made using the grape.
Fact #6 – Zibibbo Has a Unique Aroma
One of the true joys of drinking Italian wine lies in the many aromas you will discover if you take a moment to appreciate the wine’s bouquet.
Zibibbo is no different.
The wine has a unique aroma that combines notes of apricots, almonds, peaches, orange blossoms, and jasmine. This aroma profile can be made even more potent when the wine is transformed into a dessert wine, when it also takes on notes of marmalade and honey.
Zibibbo doesn’t smell like your typical Italian white wine. It forgoes the traditional citrus notes in favour of more interesting fruity aromas.
Fact #7 – The Aroma Comes from a Special Compound
Zibibbo’s scent is so unique that it is actually classed as an “aromatic” grape. Of course, all grapes exude an aroma. But the Zibibbo grape is so unique because it contains special organic compounds called terpenes.
Specifically, the grape contains high concentrations of geraniol, nerol, and linalool, which are all compounds in the terpene family. It’s these compounds that are responsible for the powerful scent of the grape.
Fact #8 – Australians Make a Sparkling Variety
While not considered a Zibibbo in the classical sense, there is a sparkling variety of the grape. A company called Browns Brothers in Australia created it, even naming it Zibibbo.
The wine has not achieved the same level of popularity as regular Zibibbo. Some traditionalists may even consider it an affront to the grape, particularly those who are supporters of the DOC system. Still, it’s interesting to see that producers will take grapes in different directions, regardless of the results.
The Final Word
If you are looking for an Italian wine that is backed by centuries of tradition and history, you could do a lot worse than to seek out a bottle of Zibibbo. This interesting aromatic wine is quite unlike anything you are likely to experience, making it truly unique amongst the many thousands of Italian wines.
Of course, you can find examples of Zibibbo, alongside hundreds of other wines, in the Xtrawine collection.
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