De Bartoli: A Commitment to Sicilian Wine From Marsala to Pantelleria

Marco De Bartoli (1945-2011) began making Zibbibo wines on Pantelleria in the mid-80s after starting a “revolution for tradition” in Marsala five years earlier. (Read more) His iconic wines helped bring attention to the history and the potential of Sicilian wines.

The native grape variety of Pantelleria is Zibbibo (Muscat d’Alessandria). Islanders beginning probably with the Arabs and surely with the Spanish in the fifteenth century, dried the grapes before fermenting them. The acidity and aromatic characteristics of the variety combined with the minerality of the volcanic soil resulted in a fabulous passito (raisin) wine.

In a time when Marsala wine and Passito di Pantelleria were increasingly being made industrially, De Bartoli wanted to go back and experiment with natural, traditional methods. In 1984, he began working with winegrower in the village of Bukkuram (Arabic for “Father of the Vineyard”). Then, in 1992, he bought the farm: the vineyards (foreground), the cellar (left:an Arabic style dammuso, a low lying [glossary_exclude] structure [/glossary_exclude]made of volcanic rock with a domed roof) , and the adjoining 18th century farmhouse (right).

The vines are all planted in the low bush method (alberello pantesco) developed on the island to protect the plants from the wind and conserve as much humidity and water around the roots as possible.

Each is carefully pruned to keep the grapes protected from the sun under the foliage.
bush vine

Sebastiano De Bartoli, Marco’s younger son lives part-time on the island and manages the vineyards and cellar with the help of a local assistant, Luke Antonioni. When I visited, they were in the midst of renovating and reorganizing the cellar to be ready for the late summer harvest.

Sebastiano makes two versions of Bukkuram. For both, 50% of the grapes are harvested and laid out to dry in the sun, while 50% are left to dry on the vines. The grapes ferment and macerate on the skins.
Bukkuram Passito di Pantelleria Padre Della Vigna DOC
Marco De Bartoli’s original wine, it is now made only in the best years, when everything is favorable and the grapes are ideal, Padre Della Vigna (Father of the Vine) is made with the wine aging for 42 months in large, oak barrels. The resulting wine is complex and rich. De Bartoli recommends drinking it after a meal as a vino di meditazione or with dark chocolate. (First made in 1984)

Bukkuram Passito di Pantelleria Sole D’Agosto DOC
Made every year, this lighter, fresher, less complex version of the wine ages for fewer than six months in wood. (First made in 2011)

2 wines

Sebastiano also carries on with Marco’s experiment of making dry Zibbibo wine, called Pietranera (Black Stone). We tasted De Bartoli Pietranera Pantelleria Bianco DOC 2014 It is dry and light (12%), but delicately fruity and aromatic…fabulous with any island fish meal or even cold dishes and salads. The grapes grow in vineyards on the north side of the island, ferments with indigenous yeast under temperature controls in stainless steel vats and undergoes a natural malolactic fermentation as well.

In this video, he explains all three wines.

Marco De Bartoli

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Tags: De Bartoli, natural wine, organic wine, Pantelleria, Passito di Pantelleria, Sicilia, Sicily, wine, Zibibbo
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