An Italian Must-Try: 2010 Donnafugata – Ben Rye – Passito di Pantelleria DOC

I decided to post some tasting notes for wines that I have tried at the Slow Wine Munich 2013 wine fair. This means I will not write a detailed Slow Wine 2013 report. Many wines disappointed me and are not worth mentioning. Maybe I will summarise all the Slow Wine 2013 flops in a separate post. If you are not familiar with Slow Food and the Slow Movement then read this post first.

An Italian Must-Try

Today’s wine review will focus on Donnafugata’s Ben Rye, which I consider one of Italy’s most well-known and best sweet wines. Donnafugata produces wine on the Mediterranean islands Sicily and Pantelleria as well as on a few other small, volcanic islands. Furthermore, Donnafugata manufactures olive oil extra vergine and grappa. Let me share some interesting stats about the winery with you. They cultivate 14 different grape varieties and their wines are available in 61 foreign markets. Almost 15.000 people visit Donnafugata each year. Below you see a map that shows the locations where Donnafugata makes wine.

Mille e una Notte and Ben Rye are their most well-known wines. At the 2013 Slow Wine trade fair in Munich I had the chance to try both of them. Today’s tasting notes are for the 2010 Ben Rye. 

Pantelleria and Passito di Pantelleria

PantelleriaPantelleria is a tiny island with an area of 83 km2.  The island is located only 60 km from the Tunisian coast and 100 km from Sicily. Pantelleria is part of the Sicilian province of Trapani. The island is of volcanic origin and very fertile. Furthermore, Pantelleria counts less than 8000 inhabitants.

Wine-wise the island is famous for its world class passito. Passito di Pantelleria DOC is produced with Zibibbo grapes. Grapes get sundried on straw mats for around 30-40 days where they lose most of their weight. During maceration, the grapes release their incredible sweetness.

Tasting notes 2010 Ben Rye

2010 Donnafugata Ben Rye Passito di Pantelleria DOC and Mille e una NotteBen Rye from Donnafugata has an intense amber color. Just by looking at the color I could already tell that this was the real deal. The bouquet consists mostly of candid oranges, peach, wild herbs and honey. Alcohol by volume was label listed at 14.5%. On the palate, Ben Rye was extremely soft with a delicious sweetness. I tasted some candid fruits and minerals. A very complex wine with a lingering finish.

4.5 / 5 stars      

The wine is classified as Passito di Pantelleria DOC. Ben Rye is among the best sweet wines that I have tried so far. Almost as good as the legendary Recioto di Soave from Trabucchi d’Illasi.

Parting words

A 0.375 liters bottle of Ben Rye retails for around 20€. The wine is also available in 0.75 liters bottles. Use wine searcher to find a store near you. It is worth knowing that the wine won the prestigious 3 bicchieri award from the Gambero Rosso.

I already mentioned that I also tried the Mille e una Notte from Donnafugata. Mille e una Notte literally translates to One Thousand and One Nights. Tasting notes for the Mille e una Notte are coming in the next days.

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Have you tried Ben Rye? What is your opinion on sweet wines like Passito di Pantelleria? Looking forward to your comments!

29 comments on “An Italian Must-Try: 2010 Donnafugata – Ben Rye – Passito di Pantelleria DOC”

  1. foodwine88 Reply

    Planeta and Donnafugata are my two favorite Sicilian wineries. I’m glad you reminded me that I should drink some of their wines again!
    I’ve travelled through most of Italy, including Sicily but have never made it to Pantelleria. Would love to go there one day. The island seems to have a beautiful scenery!
    Tweeted your great post to my followers.

    • vino in love Reply

      Thanks for tweeting my post. Really appreciate it!
      Donnafugata and Planeta are among my favorite Sicilian wineries as well. Another fantastic Sicilian winery is Girolamo Russo. Do you know their Etna Rosso? For sure worth trying if you don’t know it already.

      • wineking3 wineking3 Reply

        Just did the same 😛
        Great post, Julian. Keep it up. You made me excited about that red wine mille e una notte. The bottle looks so intriguing and the label is so pretty.

        • vino in love Reply

          Thanks for stopping by and thanks for tweeting it. I agree that the Mille e una Notte has an amazing label but the one from Ben Rye isn’t bad either 😉

      • foodwine88 Reply

        I tried Etna Rosso but not from Giralamo Russo. Looked on wine seacher for it but it seems to be available only in Europe – mostly Italy.

  2. winetalks winetalks Reply

    I’ve had quite a few wines from Sicily by now but never a pasito di pantelleraia. Would love to try some of Donnafugata’s wines and I just saw that they are available in the US 🙂
    Thanks for sharing your tasting notes with us, Julian!

    How was the mille e una notte wine? Judging from the label I’d guess it was awesome, too!

    • vino in love Reply

      Thanks for stopping by!
      Mille e una Notte was good but I won’t tell you more right now 🙂 Tasting notes for it are coming in the next days.
      If you get to try some of their wines then make sure to let me know whether you liked them or not (but I’m sure you’d write about it on your blog anyways)

    • vino in love Reply

      Good to hear that you and Stefano enjoyed the wine. I agree it’s fantastic! And at least over here it has a pretty good price-quality ratio.

  3. Sean P. Reply

    Nice review but what a weird name! Ben Rye sounds so not Italian. Could be Hebrew or so.

    • vino in love Reply

      Thanks for stopping by!
      “The name comes from the Arabic term “Son of the Wind” because the wind sweeps constantly around the clusters on Pantelleria. And the island’s winds bring with them a profusion of fragrances so intense that you can touch them.” Quote from Donnafugata’s site. This should explain the name 🙂

  4. the drunken cyclist Reply

    I picked up six of the 2007 vintage a few years ago here in PA for $15 which was a pretty good price and I have been very happy with the wine. I have four left that I plan to sit on for at least a while….

    • drinkforlife Reply

      In my cellar I still have two bottles of Donnafugta Ben Rey. 2003 vintage though. The wine can age for many decades I heard 🙂
      But unfortunately, I paid a lot more than $15 per bottle.

      • vino in love Reply

        Thank you for commenting.
        At SlowWine the woman working at Donnafugata’s stand told us that the wine can age for a while. I’d love to try an old vintage of Ben Rye

    • vino in love Reply

      Thanks for stopping by!
      I haven’t tried the 2007 vintage but the 2008 vintage was spectacular as well. And 15$ per bottle is a real steal!

  5. Suzanne Reply

    Excuse my ignorance but would this wine be classified as a dessert or fortified wine? I am not familiar with this. The amber color is unusual and I am intrigued and now really want to give this a try. I am thinking about a dessert wine pairing and this sounds wonderful.

    • vino in love Reply

      Thanks for asking this very good question. In general when you see a wine that is called Passito then it is always a sweet wine and never a fortified wine.
      Sweet wines like Passito and Recioto get their alcohol naturally. Fortified wine on the other hand is wine with brandy (or any other distilled beverage). Port, Sherry and Vermouth are examples for fortified wine.
      Hope this answers your question.

      You are right that the amber color is quite unusual. The wine is definitely worth trying but beware: it’s addictive 🙂

      • Suzanne Reply

        Thank you, so this wine would be good paired with dessert? I have several dessert wines in my cooler but am always looking for something new. I didn’t know that fortified wines have brandy or some spirit added. See, I learned something new. Thank you.

        • vino in love Reply

          It depends on the dessert. For what type of dessert do you need wine recommendations? In my opinion the Ben Rye does not go well with many desserts because the wine itself is very sweet and extremely intense. Ben Rye pairs well with aged Parmesan cheese and maybe with dark chocolate.
          The problem with most Passito and Recioto wines is that are dominant themselves and therefore they get often served without or with very little food
          But if you let me know for what type of desserts you need wine matches then I would be more than happy to help.

          • Suzanne

            I was thinking to go with biscotti and molten chocolate cake served with whipped cream and some berries. Would love to do a dessert wine pairing!

          • vino in love


            Chocolate desserts in general are the most difficult to pair with wine. Only very alcoholic wines (mostly fortified wines) tend to pair ok with them. Marsala DOC from Sicily (around 15%-20% ABV) might work. I could also suggest a Portuguese Port wine and Sherry.
            If we leave the world of wine, then an Armagnac (Brandy from France) might work as well.

            I think this is a good occasion to write a post about dessert wine pairing. In the next weeks, I was planting to do so anyways.
            The post will cover a large variety of dessert types and possible wine pairings. Hope it will help you 🙂

          • Suzanne

            Thank you, I would love to post your information regarding dessert wines on my blog with your kind permission. My idea was to do a virtual dessert table with various desserts that I have posted on my blog previously, and pair with wines or spirits. Would you like to collaborate with me on this if you have the time and would be so inclined? So many of my friends have no idea what to serve with dessert other than champagne and I would really like to know.for my myself. I am woefully ignorant of pairing wines in general but especially dessert wines, it seems very complex to me. I don’t know what desserts yet other than maybe biscotti and something chocolate, maybe my semolina citrus cake and a few more. I loved the post i did with Stefano and the wine pairing for paella and now I would like to tackle dessert.

          • vino in love

            A virtual dessert table sounds like a wonderful idea. I’m sure we can work on something together here. Once you know the desserts that you want to pair with wines you can send me a mail.
            I agree with you that pairing dessert wines is a complex subject. If I manage to finish the my post then I’ll publish it later on. If not it will be up on Thursday and if you like it then you are more than welcome to post it on your blog as well. In that case, I would send you an email containing an HTML version of the post.

          • Suzanne

            Thanks Julian, I will send you an email with the list of desserts and we can work on it. Thank you!

    • foodwine88 Reply

      I just wondered the same so thanks for asking this question Suzanne 🙂
      I was never quite sure what the differences between the fortified wine and sweet wine are.

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