Fifteen years ago in Sicily, it didn’t matter where you went—seafood shack or elegant restaurant—the “bianco” side of the wine list was short and unappealing. Nothing spoils a nice fish dinner like a flabby, flavorless white, but Sicilians had long settled for these depressing wines, the product of a quantity-over-quality mentality that’s prevailed ever since the post-war recovery, when Sicily became a leader in bulk wine. I imagine the locals simply shrugged and said, “What’re ya gonna do? Sicily’s hot.” Over-ripe grapes and insipid whites were a fact of life.
With 620 miles of coast, Sicily is awash in seafood. At morning fish markets, giant tunas hang from hooks ready to be sliced into thick steaks, and fishmongers bark at shoppers to inspect their morning’s catch, glistening on ice. At evening time, diners at seaside trattorie crowd around plastic tables and greedily tuck into spaghetti with clams while their kids pry open spiky sea urchins and spread the coral flesh onto sesame bread.
So you’d think there’d be an abundance of crisp white wines to accompany this maritime bounty, right? Wrong. That is, until recently.
If there’s a star of this show, it’s grillo. Until the 1990s, this grape was wholly obscure, used exclusively for Marsala, and even then it played second fiddle to catarratto. No one dreamed of turning it into a dry wine—until Marco De Bartoli came along.
It took another decade for wineries to follow suit. Everyone thought him nuts, and the wine was hard to market thanks to a linguistic coincidence: grillo also means ‘cricket’ in Italian.
Today grillos abound, but the prevailing style eschews oak and aims for easy drinking, highlighting the citrus or tropical fruit flavors. Grillo is often planted near the shore, where sea breezes cool the grapes and bolster acidity. That might explain the salty finish on some (trust me, that’s a good thing).
Long thought to be indigenous, grillo was confirmed to be a cross between catarratto and zibibbO a decade ago and its creator credited: Sicilian agronomist Antonino Mendola made this hybrid in 1874 “to create a more aromatic Marsala,” according to his notes. Two biotypes exist: one is fresh and bright, with some salinity; the other is rounder, higher in alcohol, with honeyed aromas. Clearly, a winery’s choice greatly effects its grillo style.
Other examples to try: Abbazia Santa Anastasia’s Grillo, Ceuso’s Scurati Bianco, Fondo Antico’s Grillo Parlante, Spadafora’s Grillo
You could find the original article on patriciathomson.net