With its oldest name documented as Zibibbo, this white grape is also known as Moscato di Alessandria due to its place in the moscato family of varieties, and potential birthplace of Alexandria, Egypt. Its first name is most likely rooted in the Arab word zabib, meaning raisin or dried grape. However, these origins are up for debate and experts believe Zibibbo was most likely born in Italy or Greece.
Zibibbo is a typical variety of the small island of Pantelleria, where it thrives in volcanic soil; but the viticulture here comes along with difficult working conditions for winemakers. Due to the presence of a national park composing about 80% of the island, it is almost impossible to plant new vineyards. In addition, working on volcanic rock rules out the option for mechanical harvesting, and winemakers must struggle to harvest themselves. For these reasons, Zibibbo wine production has lowered significantly over the past twenty years.
The vineyards of Pantelleria have been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for their unique agricultural appearance. This area, called Alberello Pantesco, is a result of the alberello training system used today, a technique brought by the Greeks during their expansion of Magna Graecia. This procedure is used for areas like this volcanic island where climate conditions are tough and nutrients are limited. The vines are kept low to the ground.
Zibibbo grapes are characterized by round or oval, yellow-green berries arranged in a tight, large, elongated pyramid shape. Due to their resistance to heat, drought and heavy seaside winds, they thrive on this volcanic island. However, Zibibbo vines are susceptible to oidium, a mildew fungal disease, and zinc deficiency, which can affect grape development.
Zibibbo wines can be liquoroso (dense, sweet), spumante (sparkling), passito (sweet by process of drying the grapes) and bianco (dry). The two main wines composed of Zibibbo are Moscato di Pantelleria DOC and Passito di Pantelleria DOC. The first is a dry, fresh wine with aromas of dried herbs, lily, ginger and apricot. The Passito di Pantelleria, made from air-dried grapes, is sticky-sweet and creamy, with honey and orange marmalade aromas.