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Grillo: the native grape variety that tells the story of Sicily

Of mysterious origins, Grillo takes us on a journey across a wonderful island, narrated by passionate producers.

Barbara Fassio
Barbara Fassio

How many of us, with the arrival of spring, leave in a drawer the memory of cold winter days, trips to the snow and lavish lunches warmed by the heat of the stove to start fantasising about the next holiday? The heat, the sea and good food enjoyed outdoors or a picnic in a green valley surrounding a mountain lake begin to make us long for the arrival of summer. 

Leaving you daydreaming, we recommend both reading our article, which will give you great travel ideas, and reading here about a land that could become the perfect destination for a perfect all-drinking holiday. Amidst stupendous panoramas, monumental cities, golden beaches and volcanoes to climb, Sicily can also give you a special opportunity to taste delicious specialities, paired with many indigenous wines. 

Today we are going to tell you about one of these vines: a white grape, widespread mainly in western Sicily but of Apulian origin, is Grillo or, for friends, ‘u riddu’.

If you are looking for an alternative proposal to an international white wine – a Chardonnay or a Pinot Grigio for example – with a delicate herbaceous note and brilliant acidity, Grillo will be a pleasant discovery, to be paired with fish and vegetable dishes.

Just as, thanks to some producers, we have told you about the red wines made from Nebbiolo, today we will take you on a journey through the vineyards of our partners who work with Grillo.

THE GRAPE FOR AN ENGLISH WINE

The wine we know today as Marsala was not born from an Italian idea, but derives from the intuition of an English merchant, back in 1773. John Woodhouse , tasted the wine that was produced in the islanders’ homes, called Perpetuo, sensed its potential and began to produce it, increasing the alcohol content to make it last longer. Thus began the history of this sweet wine that, even today, is famous all over the world.  

But are you wondering what all this has to do with Grillo? Very much, in fact this grape variety has for years been used almost exclusively for the production of Marsala, in good company with Catarratto, Inzolia and Damaschino. Grillo was chosen to give greater aromaticity to Marsala wine: we speak of choice because Grillo was born as a cross between Cataratto and Zibibbo (or Moscato d’Alessandria), thanks to the planting trials of the Favarese baron Antonino Mendola. In 1874, the new grape saw the light of day, as the Marquis himself tells us: ‘a white Catarratto seed artificially fertilised with Zibibbo during the 1869 flowering in my Piana dei Peri vineyard near Favara […] I grafted it in February 1872 onto a sturdy black Inzolia vine in order to hasten its fructification and thus had the pleasure of tasting the first bunches in autumn 1874’. Before becoming known by its name, it was called Moscato Cerletti, in honour of the engineer friend to whom the Marquis dedicated it.

Let’s keep in mind that stories and nature often intersect, giving rise to legends and myths that unite people and territories: the same applies to this grape as well, since many claim its Apulian origin and its spread to the Marsala area following phylloxera.

marrone

Whatever its origins, it certainly has a much higher sugar content than other white grapes, which is why it has been so successful as the basis for the sweet wine of the city of Garibaldi’s Thousand. For the #Affectionate character, it will be love at first taste!

In recent decades, however, the goodness of these grapes has been discovered, even when vinified in purity. Also thanks to cryomaceration, producers are able to bottle wines with great organoleptic complexity, which are fragrant, savoury and particularly suited to ageing. Grapefruit, orange blossom and thyme are some of the scents you might enjoy in this wine, which can easily be paired with fish, even raw, and fresh cheeses.

A CELLAR BRIDGE BETWEEN LOMBARDY AND SICILY

Let us not forget that Grillo is also produced in Basilicata and in some provinces of Apulia (for no less than four different IGTs – Murgia IGT, Tarantino IGT, Salento IGT, Valle d’Itria IGT -), but certainly Sicily remains its land of choice. And right here, in Marsala (where else?), the Caruso e Minini winery  has chosen to celebrate it and bottle all its peculiarities, enhanced in the vineyard by completely organic cultivation. Thus was born Palmares – Grillo Naturalmente bio, a perfect blend of intensity and elegance of aromas. Caruso and Minini are expertly dedicated to transferring Sicilian tradition into the bottle, to give centuries-old wines a modern expression: from the highest hillsides, they derive freshness and hints of white flowers and wild herbs. In the bottle we find savouriness and soft acidity that make it a perfect wine to pair with delicate dishes such as fish tartare, but at the same time its balanced softness and excellent taste structure are surprising.

If you want an unforgettable end to a meal, however, the Grillo Vendemmia Tardiva Tagòs is the perfect match for mature cheeses or traditional desserts. The late harvest allows the grapes to be golden, intense, fruity and with notes of honey and officinal herbs

These wines are a perfect reflection of the work of this winery, which began as an ambitious gamble combining the agricultural tradition of the Caruso family of winegrowers and the sales expertise of the Brescian Minini family. The work of Stefano Caruso’s daughters has brought a breath of fresh air between the barrels, which we find in every sip of their wines: a quest for quality that goes hand in hand with a daily commitment to environmental sustainability.

minini

STUDY AND EXPERIMENTATION IN SEARCH OF PERFECT TERROIR

Particularly intense in colour, pale straw yellow and luminous, Grillo is recognisable by its rather marked body and significant acidity. The wines made from this grape are fruity and citrusy: notes of wild flowers and orange blossom immediately recall the natural wonders of the Sicilian lands. On the palate the wine is fresh, well structured with a pleasant, slightly savoury and mineral finish. The Grillo is a wine that is sure to please an #Outgoing Character.

Tasting it in purity allows one to taste the authentic aromas and flavours of this rich and varied land. This is why the Mandrarossa winery has included in its line of “Varietals Wines” the Bianco Sicilia DOC made exclusively from Grillo grapes; a fresh, young wine with hints of citrus and prickly pear. 

Each bottle for Mandrarossa is a symbol of continuous experimentation, towards innovation. This quest for change starts with the study of the territory, of the ideal habitats so that each grape variety expresses its potential to the full. Innovation for Mandrarossa is the search for a new identity for Sicilian wine, it is tradition that returns in a new guise.

vigna

Bianco Sicilia DOC is the ideal wine for a light summer lunch, after a day by the sea or on an excursion to discover vineyards clinging to the black slopes of Etna. The winery also offers regional pairings, with traditional recipes from the family’s history: from ‘zucchine a riquagghio’ with egg  (a way to prepare courgette), to busiate alla carrettiera with tenderloin (‘busiata’ is a typical Sicilian pasta) to sciavata. Is your mouth watering just us?

THE WHITE THAT CAN AGE 

When one thinks of Grillo DOC – want to know more about DOCs? read here – one must consider as its main characteristic its predisposition to ageing, a rather unusual peculiarity for a white wine, no?

This is due to its high acid content, which, however, can easily trigger oxidative processes, which are responsible for the exhalation of sulphurous notes that cover the fruity aromas typical of the grape variety. The Madaudo winery tries to process these grapes skilfully in order to prevent oxidation: no maceration on the skins and choice of steel instead of wood. Alternatively? Vinification with cold maceration, which can give wines of great organoleptic intensity, savoury and with a fresh fruit bouquet.

bottiglie

Ever since grandfather Alfio and grandfather Rosario began this project, the Madaudo family has chosen to valorise indigenous Sicilian grapes, striving to ‘extract the maximum quality from the fertile lands of Sicily’, to enhance the personality of each grape variety.

And so Sicilia Illustrata – Grillo DOC, with its soft yellow colour and delicate hints of fruit and white flowers, and Barone di Bernaj – Grillo DOC Sicilia were born to speak of tradition, conviviality and territoriality. 

The Grillo encapsulates a kaleidoscope of scents and flavours that Madaudo wanted to fix in time with his artistic labels, which are for us the first approach to a product that will then conquer us with its aromatic bouquet. Sustainability and protection of quality are intertwined in an exciting wine project, which every day lives for the enhancement of the territory. With his wines, Madaudo tells us about his love for his land.