Back on December 18th, 2013, a Sicilian dessert wine made from dried Zibibbo (aka Muscat of Alexandria) ruled the wine twitter world for an hour.
Think about that for a minute. A $40 half-bottle of sweet wine. Of Zibibbo. From Sicily.
I recently wrote up the top five most mentioned wines online in 2013, and Sicilian dessert wine was… uhm… not anywhere near that list… nor in the top twenty… I’m guessing it wasn’t in the top 600…
As good as the wine is (and it’s great – more on that in a few minutes), I was skeptical after I received Donnafugata’s invitation to join their twitter tasting of the then newest Ben Ryé Passito release. First of all, after last week’s top ten Most Interesting Wines 2013 roundup (the 2008 Ben Ryé made the cut), how much more publicity did they need from me? And there was no structure whatsoever to the tasting, which isn’t typical of most simultaneous twitter tasting gatherings; usually, there are more than one wine to taste, someone sets the order, and those with the wine (mine was received as a sample for the event) are paced through the tasting by a leader, who fields questions snet via twitter to winery representatives, sometimes with video involved. This Donnafugata tasting had none of that. Until the day of the tasting, they hadn’t even announced a hashtag to use for summarizing all of the tweets involved.
But… I wanted to try the wine, had a free hour that evening, and it was being spearheaded by a friend of mine, Master of Wine candidate and indefatigable wine promoter Luiz Alberto. And so I figured, what the hell, let’s do it. I was unprepared for the outpouring of love that Ben Ryé received. Let’s take a look at the numbers, ‘cause they don’t lie…
Aside from a handful of people asking “what the f*ck is #benrye ?” during the online tasting, a few publicly (and privately to me) started asking where they could buy the wine. So at a minimum, Donnafugata’s event generated a handful of sales and new customers they’d otherwise not have acquired. But according to Tweetreach.com, the event put Ben Ryé Passito into the eyes/hearts/minds of between 76,000 and 308,000 people.
Those are fairly impressive exposure numbers for any small wine brand, particularly a sweet wine made of Muscat grapes from 100+ year old vines that are dried for two to three weeks and result in a wine that, according to their press materials, has a “very personal aroma” (I don’t get it either… whenever I have personal aromas, I take a shower…).
As I emphatically gesticulated to the South African winemaking community during my keynote speech at the Nederburg Wine Auction earlier this year, as a small-ish wine brand you cannot compete in the U.S. wine market against behemoths like Barefoot, who will probably be filling up sidebar ads, billboards, and the sides of buses with pictures of their wares. Instead, you need to go guerilla, trying to win the hearts and minds of wine consumers. One of the least expensive and most effective ways to do that is online, which is exactly what Donnafugata did for its Ben Ryé brand last week.
In other words, Homerun.
2011 Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria (Sicilia, $40)
The Summer was long on the sandy, volcanic island of Pantelleria in 2011, which probably accounts for how powerful the fruity notes are for this vintage of Ben Ryé Passito. While the trademark hints of tea leaf, orange peel, and balsamic are there, they are playing background to the intense dried and fresh apricot fruits, sultanas, and exotic flowers that dominate this release. The wine is a baby, sweet to its core, with freshness that will certainly carry it through several years of repose in the bottle. The finish is lingering, carrying the fruit, freshness, and sultry smoothness of the sugar all the way through. Queue up “You Sexy Thing” on Pandora, with this wine, you’re gonna need it.