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May 09, 2012
Ben Rye - Sicilian Gold

Suddenly Sicilian wines are popular in North America, and last week the Donna Fugata winery brought their best bottles to town to show us why.

Several were worthy of articles on their own, if only because the native Sicilian grapes rarely appear on Vancouver tasting tables. Cattarratto, Ansonica, Zibibbo, Nero d'Avola and Tannat were some of the varietals on show, both as 100% bottlings as well as in blends with more familiar grapes such as Chardonnay, Viognier, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

We were on a specific hunt however, and soon gravitated to the end of the tasting table towards the exquisite Ben Ryé (pronounced bear-e-AY). Not only did we find the fabled dessert wine, but surprise!, its companion bottle of Grappa too.

Produced from Zibibbo (or Moscato di Alessandria) grapes grown on the island of Pantelleria, and then dried in the sun to naturally concentrate their sugars before crushing*, the gold/orange ambrosia of the Ben Ryé was highly perfumed with the essence and flavours of apricot, burnt orange, honey and dried fig, yet it was saved from becoming cloying by its high acidity. The grappa, a paler tint of peach, was distilled from the pomace of the grapes remaining after the vinification of the Ben Ryé. Echoing the same taste profile, only with just a hint of raison-y sweetness combined with an edge of bitter citrus, it was distinctly different from other premium grappas we've tried in this market.

You'd want to sip either of these special bottles slowly, after a meal, and when the Donnafugata wines arrive on spec in a couple of months time, you'll probably find them at our top Mediterranean-style restaurants. The dessert wine would be especially good with blue cheeses or foie gras, or as the Italians prefer it, with ricotta-filled desserts or chunks of gianduia chocolate.

Chef and restaurateur Andrey Durbach is a big fan of the Ben Ryé, and you can bet he'll have some at his new Spanish restaurant Sardine Can when it opens in Gastown this summer.


* A reason to visit Sicily -- these dried grapes are so delicious, the winery sells small bags as raisins to a few, very special, Palermo delis.


2009 Ben Ryé - Passito di Pantelleria DOC 375mL, $43.

Ben Ryé Grappa 500 mL, $125.



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