For years, wine lovers around the world knew Sicily for its Marsala, the fortified wine that was named after the city in the western part of the island where most of the wineries and aging warehouses are located.
But like its cousins — port, Sherry, and Madeira – Marsala wine began to fall on hard times in the last half of the Twentieth Century as more drinkers turned to the fresh fruitiness of white, rosé and red table wines. This trend was not lost on the Rallo family, which had been making Marsala wine for over a century.
In the 1980s, Giacomo and Gabriella Rallo made a dramatic switch, selling the Marsala business along with the family brand name and launching a new winery dedicated to making table wines and employing modern grape-growing and vinification methods. They named their new winery Donnafugata, which referenced both a fleeing Bourbon queen in war time and a romantic place name in the novel, The Leopard.
Western Sicily, where the Donnafugata vineyards are located, is a beautiful vista of rolling hills framed by the Mediterranean on one side and sheer rock outcroppings of the nearby hills and mountains on the other — a beautiful place to travel and vacation. As a guest of the Rallos and Donnafugata, I arrived from Rome at the airport in Palermo, then was driven to the city of Marsala about an hour away at the island’s westernmost tip, just as the first grapes of the 2015 vintage were being harvested.
Sweet Home, Marsala!
Marsala is a lovely walk-around town with narrow streets, affordable restaurants and many monuments to ancient cultures. Invaders of Italy have often waged their first battles here. In modern times, Garibaldi in 1860 began his unification of Italy campaign by invading Marsala, and Allied forces during World War II almost leveled the city before coming ashore.
Under the Sicilian Sun
There are three locales of winemaking in western Sicily and “Sicilia DOC” – Marsala city, where both traditional sweet wines and table wines are made, the area around the town of Contessa Entellina, where many prime vineyards for dry wines are located, and the rugged island of Pantelleria, off the coast of Tunisia, where naturally sweet wines are made.