If you’ve never heard of Zibibbo wine, you’re missing out!
Zibibbo is a white wine grape grown across the Mediterranean, where it goes by its more common name: Muscat of Alexandria. Today, Zibibbo wine is made on the islands of Sicily and Pantelleria into refreshing dry whites and luscious dessert wines. Zibibbo wines are aromatic and perfumed. Serve them chilled. Pair dry Zibibbo with seafood and sweet styles with fruit and custard-based desserts.
Who doesn’t love perfume in a glass? If you’re a fan of aromatic white wines, then Zibibbo’s waiting for you! Here’s what you need to know about this little white grape.
Where is Zibibbo wine grown?
The Zibibbo grape is grown on the Italian islands of Sicily and Pantelleria. Zibibbo is the local name for the more widely used name Muscat of Alexandria.
Muscat of Alexandria is often referred to as “Mother Muscat” because this grape is ancient, and thought to be one of the original grape varieties from which all other varieties mutated over millennia and transported throughout the region by the many civilizations that have called the Mediterranean home.
Muscat of Alexandria and its many clones of the Muscat family grow across the Mediterranean – from Egypt to Spain and Portugal. The Zibibbo grape name, however, is unique to Sicily and Pantelleria.
Is Zibibbo a Moscato?
Yes, technically Zibibbo is a Moscato and belongs to the Muscat family. Zibibbo is the Muscat of Alexandria clone. Zibibbo isn’t the same clone used for the famous Moscato d’Asti of northern Italy.
Moscato d’Asti uses the Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains, or Moscato Bianco in Italian.
What does Zibibbo taste like?
Dry, white table wines made from Zibibbo are pale lemon and have pronounced aromas of white flowers, grapes, fresh herbs, like fennel, and citrus – lemon and lime.
Zibibbo wine has high acid, medium alcohol, a light to medium body, and pronounced aromatics that explode from the glass.
Expect your Zibibbo wine to be light, refreshing, and heavily perfumed, which is a classic Muscat characteristic. Fresh. Balanced. Floral.
Zibibbo Dessert Wine
Is Zibibbo a dessert wine?
Zibibbo can make dessert wines but isn’t always a dessert wine. Zibibbo grapes also make dry white wines and can be used for table grapes.
How do they make Zibibbo dessert wine?
Zibibbo dessert wines are made in the passito style or dried-grape wine. This is a traditional method used throughout Italy for sweet winemaking.
The winegrower allows the grapes to partially raisinate (dry out) either on the vine or on large mats inside the winery.
As the grapes dehydrate, it concentrates acid, flavors, and sugars – all of the good stuff in wine.
When the winemaker goes to ferment the grapes, the sugar level in the grapes is so high, that the yeast can’t ferment all of the sugar into alcohol and they naturally die off, leaving sweet, unfermented grape juice leftover in the wine.
Helpful Tip: Here’s a quick post that covers how wine fermentation works in more detail.
The sweet dessert-style wine of Zibibbo is most associated with the small island of Pantelleria, which is actually geographically closer to Tunisia than Italy.
Fun Wine Fact: The winegrowing and viticultural practices on Pantelleria used to make Zibibbo are part of the UNESCO World Heritage. Check it out here (link to UNESCO site).
Sweet wines are more stable than dry wines, making them excellent for long sea voyages around the Mediterranean two thousand years ago.
Unfortunately, sweet wines aren’t in vogue today like they were B.C.E., and these traditional sweet wines, like Zibibbo, can be hard to find.
What does Zibibbo dessert wine taste like?
Zibibbo dessert wines are deep amber in color. They smell like honey, caramelized mandarin, and apricots on the nose with some floral notes. Zibibbo dessert wine is full-bodied, with flavors of pastry, almonds, and honeyed stone fruits.
These dessert wines will have a very long, lingering finish, perfect for a special evening.
How do you drink Zibibbo?
Serve Zibibbo wines well-chilled, between 45°-50°F (8°- 12°C). In the real world, this means sticking your Zibibbo dry table wine in the fridge overnight or for a few hours before you want to drink it, then taking the bottle out and letting it sit on the counter for about 15-20 minutes before pouring and enjoying.
- Dry white Zibibbo wines aren’t made for aging. Drink them young and enjoy their freshness.
- Sweet passito or Pantelleria Zibibbos can age for a decade or more thanks to their concentrated flavors, acid, and sugar. This makes these wonderful wines to keep in your cellar for a special occasion.
What to pair with Zibibbo wine.
Zibibbo’s an aromatic white wine that will lift up the salty and delicate flavors in other dishes. It comes from the Mediterranean, so think Mediterranean cuisine. Here are a few yummy ideas to get you started pairing Zibibbo wine:
- Pita and hummus
- Soft cheese
- Olive plates
- Shrimp cocktail
- Steamed white fish
- Pasta with pesto
- Green leafy salads with mandarins or pomegranate arils
- Roasted squash soup
- Lentil soup
- Stuffed grape leaves
- Oven-roasted chicken with an herb rub
Pair sweet dessert Zibibbo wine with fruit-based desserts like gelato, fruit tarts, or compotes. Dessert-style or Pantelleria Zibibbo will pair well with creamy vanilla-based desserts like creme brulee or tapioca.
Helpful Tip: If you’re just getting started out with wine, I put together this helpful overview of food with wine pairing to get you started. Side note – I spend just as much time thinking about food with wine pairing as I do deciding what I’m going to eat every night. Utter hedonism. What can I say?
How much does Zibibbo wine cost?
On average, a bottle of dry white Zibibbo wine imported into the US will cost you about $10 – $15 USD. This is an absolute bargain considering these wines are imported from Sicily.
(I stand by my opinion that Sicilian wines are fabulous bargains for everyday drinkers.)
If you want to try a dessert Zibibbo, or sweet Zibibbo, expect to pay a premium.
- A half-bottle of sweet Zibibbo will cost you, on average, around $50 USD.
This makes sense given the additional labor costs and winemaking costs for passito wines.
Where can you buy Zibibbo wine?
You won’t find Zibibbo wine at your local grocery store or small bottle shop. You’ll need to seek it out at a large wine store or specialty wine shop. If you want to buy a dry Zibibbo wine, look for the words “dry” or “secco” on the label (dry in Italian).
You’ll only be able to find sweet styles of passito Zibibbo at specialty wine shops, so you’ll need to do your research.
Alternatively, you can just take a trip to Sicily and the Mediterranean. Fun!
Thirsty for More?
If you love sweet Zibibbo wine, then you must try Vin Doux Naturel – also made from Muscat into a sweet dessert wine, but grown in Southern France. (It’s much less expensive than Zibibbo dessert wines).
And… on the topic of dessert wines, here’s a fun post on how Portugal’s island of Madeira was almost traded to England as part of a royal dowry. Who knew?