The Rallo family has made wine in Marsala since 1851 and their ancient cellars tunnel beneath the city. They were one of the first families to begin making high quality table wine when sales of traditional Marsala started to decline, launching the Donnafugata label in 1983 and championing the potential of the region's native varieties. Today, Donnafugata has three estates in Sicily: a modern winery and 270 hectares at Contessa Entellina in the hills east of Marsala; 18 hectares in Vittoria to the south eastern point of the Island; and 68 hectares on the island of Pantelleria. Donnafugata means 'fleeing woman' and is a reference to Queen Maria Carolina, who escaped the court of Naples in the early 19th Century with her husband, Ferdinand IV of Bourbon, when Napoleon's troops arrived. The couple took refuge in Sicily at the Santa Margherita Belice palace, also the favourite residence of celebrated writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and depicted on the 'Mille e Una Notte' label.
From vines planted on the island of Pantelleria (South-Western Sicily), this is a modern take on the classic Moscato Passito. The name Ben Ryé derives from the Arabic 'Son of the Wind', after the wind which sweeps round the island. Vines are planted in hollows in the ground, at altitudes of 20-400 metres above sea level on terraced, sandy slopes of volcanic origin. The low bush vines of Pantelleria have been described on the UNESCO World Heritage List as a 'creative and sustainable practice'. The vines are over 100 years old and are ungrafted.
The 2015 vintage experienced cooler temperatures and more precipitation than in previous years. Overall, between 1st October 2014 and 30th September 2015, rainfall reached 763mm compared to the 656mm average of the last 10 years. In July, maximum temperatures were higher than average for the period which aided the ripening process of the grapes. Considerable temperature fluctuations between day and night encouraged the development of perfumes in the grapes.
Once the grapes reached the winery, they underwent further selection on a vibrating table before soft pressing. Fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperatures. The dried grapes – added to the fresh must in several batches – were destemmed and selected by hand. Ageing took place in stainless steel tanks for seven months and at least 12 months in bottle before release.
Brilliant amber in colour, Ben Ryé is wonderfully fresh and complex. The bouquet is intense and fragrant - aromas of apricots and candied citrus zest combine with notes of Mediterranean thyme and rosemary. The palate is well-defined and intense, with pleasant sweetness well balanced by fresh acidity and great minerality. The finish is long and persistent - a captivating Passito di Pantelleria.