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Grillo Wines

Grillo wine is one of the protagonists of Sicilian enological excellence, a speciality that has risen to prominence in recent years thanks to the qualitative renaissance of Sicilian winemaking. It comes from the white grape variety of the same name and has a fairly recent history: it was created by Baron Antonio Mendola in 1873 from a cross between Catarratto and Zibibbo. It then spread throughout western Sicily where it is traditionally used, along with other varieties, for the production of the best Marsala wines. Today, several producers produce it in its pure form, following its main calling: to produce white wines of considerable substance, characterised by a fine aromatic richness, good alcohol content and an ageing potential that, in the Sicilian panorama, is comparable only to the expressions of the Etna region.
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Grillo wine is one of the protagonists of Sicilian enological excellence, a speciality that has risen to prominence in recent years thanks to the qualitative renaissance of Sicilian winemaking. It comes from the white grape variety of the same name and has a fairly recent history: it was created by Baron Antonio Mendola in 1873 from a cross between Catarratto and Zibibbo. It then spread throughout western Sicily where it is traditionally used, along with other varieties, for the production of the best Marsala wines. Today, several producers produce it in its pure form, following its main calling: to produce white wines of considerable substance, characterised by a fine aromatic richness, good alcohol content and an ageing potential that, in the Sicilian panorama, is comparable only to the expressions of the Etna region.

Grillo Wines, a Vine with Two Faces

Despite its young history, this variety of white wine is now considered to be one of the most typical and characteristic of the Sicilian territory. This is mainly due to its intense aromatic profile, which immediately recalls the typical scents and flavours of the island of origin: orange blossom, yellow flowers, citrus fruits and aromatic herbs. However, there are different interpretations, and the diversity is emphasised by the identity of the grape itself, which is essentially based on two different contrasts.

The grape used to produce Grillo wines comes from a cross between two indigenous varieties, Catarratto and Zibibbo, otherwise known as Moscato di Alessandria. The first creator of this crossbreeding was Baron Antonio Mendola, a Sicilian agronomist, ampelographer and writer from Favara. His brilliant intuitions were aimed at identifying solutions to vine diseases by grafting and creating hybrids. Among the thousands of hybrids, the one he created in 1873 distinguished itself. He named it Moscato Catarratto Cerletti, in honour of his friend, the director of the prestigious enological school of Conegliano. It spread with great success throughout the western part of Sicily because of its resistance and an aromatic profile capable of elegantly combining the freshness and minerality of Catarratto with the aromatic expressiveness of Zibibbo. At the end of the 19th century, this variety became very popular, but then slowly declined during the 20th century in favour of more productive varieties with an older history.

Recently re-evaluated for its unique and very expressive aromatic profile, this grape is used for the production of smooth, fresh and fragrant white wines that lend themselves to a variety of gastronomic pairings. The second difference is that there are two different biotypes. Both are resistant to downy mildew but very sensitive to powdery mildew and have slight differences. Since both biotypes are inclined to develop good sugar concentrations while maintaining a low pH, biotype A, with its compact bunch, produces grapes that are on average fresher and richer in structure than those of biotype B, with its scattered bunch, characterised by a greater aromaticity of fruit and spices.

Finally, Grillo wines can be subdivided, for example, into two main types depending on the method of production and the approach chosen in the cellar. The first interpretation stems from a modern approach that tends, through vinification in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks and without oxygen, towards the production of young, fresh and immediate whites that are easy to drink. Examples of this type are Grillo Tasca d'Almerita and those of great producers such as Firriato and Donnafugata. The second category is represented by more intense and complex expressions born from a traditional approach that involves the maceration of the skins in the must. This provides more structure and aromatic charge, and the natural addition of oxygen during production, with more or less accentuated oxidation. The latter category includes iconic labels such as those of Barraco, Aldo Viola and, of course, Integer from the historic De Bartoli winery.



The Characteristics of this Variety and its Food Pairings

Distinguished by a very expressive aromatic profile, Grillo wine is captivating and territorial. This characteristic has contributed to its success and makes it one of the most popular Sicilian wines today. Generally, it has an intense straw yellow colour that tends to turn golden. The aromas are reminiscent of citrus fruits, aromatic herbs, the sea, orange blossom and, in more developed expressions, hay and dried flowers. The palate reveals a dry, warm, smooth and rich taste, with a freshness that is present but never excessive. Some interpretations produced along the west coast are characterised by salty and unmistakably marine tones, with interesting hints of seaweed, shellfish and salicornia combined with nuances of fruit and Mediterranean bush. Many of these are the work of small artisanal producers who practice maceration on the skins and offer very intense interpretations of great character, full of colour and constantly evolving aromas in the wine glass.

Generally, this type of white wine is best served with very tasty seafood dishes, although the younger, fresher, more drinkable versions are also excellent for aperitifs, delicate hors d'oeuvres and savoury snacks. The best accompaniments are dishes based on octopus, crustaceans or shellfish, including: fish salads, cuttlefish carpaccio, linguine with lobster, octopus alla Luciana or stewed, Catalan-style lobster, mussels alla marinara or alla sorrentina, sautéed clams, mantis shrimps, cannolicchi, shrimps and prawns in various preparations. Other recommended recipes include fish soups and broths, spaghetti allo scoglio, risotto alla marinara, stuffed squid, red mullet all'acqua pazza or stewed cuttlefish. The regional cuisine offers various alternatives, from pasta with sardines to pasta with aubergines and swordfish. Non-seafood dishes include recipes with vegetables or white meat. Some producers recommend, for example, the pairing with fried aubergines or goose liver.

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