Drink your dessert? Let’s discover the amazing features of the sweetest wine served after dinner. Passito for dessert. Just that!
Passito is an Italian sweet dessert wine made from dried grapes. The name “Passito” comes from the Italian word “appassimento,” which translates to "withering." The drying process concentrates the sugars in the grapes, leading to wines with higher alcohol content, sweeter flavor, and tannins. Dried-grape wines were developed in ancient Greece, likely to extend the shelf life of wine since dried-grape wines are more alcoholic and stable. The winemaking technique for dried grapes spread throughout the Mediterranean, and the Romans brought it with them as they conquered Europe. The traditional winemaking process for Passito—since about 500 BCE—involves letting the grapes partially dry on the vine, then spreading the grapes on screens covered with reeds to finish sun-drying. The modern process is the following: Most Passito winemakers pick the grapes just before they reach full ripeness, increasing acidity and reducing the chance of noble rot, which is not a desired quality for Passito. Next, the grapes are dried indoors in lofts with open windows for ventilation. Some winemakers, though, still sun-dry their grapes. The grapes dry for three weeks to six months, losing 10 to 60 percent of their moisture content, depending on the grape variety and desired style of wine. The grapes are then gently crushed and fermented in wooden barrels for weeks, months, or even a couple of years. After the initial fermentation, the wine is then racked from its lees and may be aged for several years in wooden barrels or metal tanks before bottling.
As you can see Passito is one of the many styles of wine that uses the element of time to create bolder and more developed flavours, in addition to a bit of sweetness.
In Italy, Passito is a vino de meditazione (wine for meditation*), meaning that it's too alcoholic and/or sweet to pair with food. These Italian wines are usually sipped slowly after dinner, either alone or with a small plate of biscotti.
There are a few notable types of passito in the Italian tradition. Sicily, for example, packs a punch with their Passito di Pantelleria, made from Moscato grapes dried directly under the sun that make every sip taste sun-kissed! The Island of Pantelleria, located between Tunisia and Sicily (about only 70 km from the coast of Tunisia in North Africa), produces one of the country's best-known Passito wines.
Passito di Pantelleria also covers the version Passito Liquoroso. Both are made from the Muscat of Alexandria grape, known here (and in Sicily) as Zibibbo which is considered as one of the most ancient vines in the region. Wine experts believe that this is the oldest genetically unmodified vine still existing and probably one of the first cultivated by humans.
The sort of these grapes is proclaimed by UNESCO as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The wine made from it is a product of a very old tradition that was practiced in the region for more than 2300 years.
That ancient wine, obviously, had great characteristics and exclusive nature. It has inspired one short myth about the Phoenician goddess Tanit, chief deity of Carthage who was in love with the great god Apollo. Desperate to win his love, she took the image of the gods’ cupbearer and replaced the usual drink of Olympus with the Pantelleria’s wine in his cup. The story tells that she succeeded having Apollo’s interest.
The process of producing this wine is almost as difficult and time-consuming as the ancient one. That could explain its price. One thing is sure, though: There is no other taste like Sicily passito wine! It has a deep savor of matured grapes and aromatic nutty aftertaste. The subtle flavor of wood smoke at the end of a sip could even take you into delusion you drink fine French cognac. Maybe because of its high alcohol percentage, unusual for a wine – 14,5%. Or maybe because it is a divine potion able to seduce even the gorgeous Apollo.