The Origins of Catarratto
The history of one of Sicily's main traditional white grapes remains shrouded in mystery and today various research projects are underway. These have led to the formulation of very interesting hypotheses, which are still being confirmed and defined. The importance of this vine throughout the island, where it covers around 33% of the entire vineyard area, is evidence of its deep and ancient roots in the territory. Catarratto is mainly grown in the western part of the island, between the provinces of Trapani, Palermo and Agrigento, where it contributes to the establishment of the following DOCs: Alcamo, Erice, Contessa Entellina, Marsala, Menfi, Monreale, Salaparuta, Santa Margherita di Belìce and many others. Its historical centre of development and diffusion is the coastline facing the Egadi Islands, comprising the territories of Trapani and Marsala. Wine-growing was introduced to these areas first by the Phoenicians and then by the Greeks, and it is in this prehistoric phase that the cultivation of this grape was probably initiated. Some recent genetic studies have demonstrated that this variety may have spawned the Grecanico Dorato and also the Garganega cultivated in the Veneto region, while identifying a more distant relationship with other white varieties such as Mantonico, Trebbiano Toscano, Albana di Romagna and others. These discoveries however, far from shedding light on the origin of the vine, have contributed to the mystery and have raised new questions.
One Single Vine, Many Different Varieties
It is one of the most widely cultivated grape varieties in Italy: the most common in Sicily and the third in Italy, after Sangiovese and Trebbiano Toscano. This is due to its high production yields and, in recent years, to the rediscovery and enhancement of the region's native grape varieties. Its origins are shrouded in mystery and date back to ancient times. Today, its main production centre is in the province of Trapani, where it is used not only in the production of Marsala, but also for the creation of important white wines in many other places on the island. The diversity of the varying clones explains the many different names used by the local farmers, who have always considered this variety as a family comprising different types: Ammantiddatu, Fimminedda, Bagascetta, Mattu and others. Nowadays, clones are distinguished according to the shape of the grape bunch, and of the eight types, there are three main ones: Comune, Lucido and Extra-Lucido. The Lucido variety is the most widespread and the one that Sicilian farmers once considered the best and most authentic.
The grape cluster is of medium size, more or less compact depending on the variety, and averagely sparse. The berry is generally medium-sized, although the Lucido variant has smaller berries. During the ripening stage, the skin, which is generally not very pruinose, tends to take on an intense yellow colour with golden shades in the parts exposed to the sun. The significant thickness of the skin has led some producers to adopt the practice of long maceration, a practice that has produced excellent results in the case of Catarratto Barraco, but also in other productions such as Aldo Viola's Krimiso or Porta del Vento's Saharay. Among the greatest interpretations are De Bartoli's, a true icon in the Marsala area, those of Castellucci Miano, born on the slopes of the Madonie mountains in the centre of the island at an altitude of up to 900 metres, Case Alte's '12 Filari' and Milazzo winery's 'Vignavella'. The wines of two large producers, Cusumano and Donnafugata, as well as those of a small, innovative winery called La Valle della Luna, stand out for their captivating personality and excellent prices.
Profile, Peculiarities and Characteristics
Catarratto wine generally has an intense and very expressive aromatic profile. It is straw yellow in colour and releases fruity aromas of aromatic herbs, citrus fruits and orange blossom. On the palate it is full-bodied, animated by a lively freshness and a good flavour. Depending on the area of production and the techniques used, it can take on different characteristics: if left to macerate on the skins, for example, it tends to take on a golden colour, with bright aromas of very ripe fruit and sweet spices; if it is produced on land bordering on the sea, it is loaded with marine scents and saltiness; if it is produced in areas at significant altitudes, it intensifies its freshness. To be fully appreciated, this variety should be served in a large glass at a temperature of no less than 10°C. The lighter interpretations should be consumed immediately, within a couple of years after being released on the market, while the more structured and evolved expressions are able to develop positively in the bottle for 3-4 years or more. With ageing, the aromas tend to become more intense and enveloping, with hints of honey and candied fruit. At the table, Catarratto is best paired with seafood: fish soups and first courses, mixed fried dishes, tuna and salmon fillets, shellfish and grilled fish. Vegetables, fresh and delicate cheeses and white meats that are not too spicy are also excellent accompaniments.
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