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"That Useful Wine Site"
The Grillo Grape

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About Grillo

(Synonyms: Ariddhru, Arridu, Riddu, Rossese bianco)

Background

Grillo grapes Map showing Sicily

Grillo is a white-wine grape originating in Sicily (or possibly, before that, from Puglia, though that seems unlikely—best bet is that it's a native of Sicily). It is today almost exclusively a Sicilian wine, though as Rossesse Bianco a little is also grown in Liguria.

Its major virtue in the vineyard is that it can withstand really high temperatures and drought and still produce copiously. It also tends to quite high alcohol contents, which makes it a prime candidate for being left on the vine long enough to produce sweet dessert wines (which is why it is what Marsala is classically made from). Grown as a dry table wine, it needs considerable caution to make anything that isn't bland and nearly tasteless; thus, care is needed in selecting particular bottlings if disappointment is to be avoided. As you will see below, Grillo gets little respect from most reviewers; yet Jancis Robinson (whom we mainly follow in selecting grapes to write about) shows it as at least capable of making pretty decent wine.

Grillo is not a strongly aromatic or flavored wine, but at its best it is full-bodied, earthy almost to the point of astringency, and can be bottle-aged to benefit. It will have a creamy feel (though with some acidity), and a sense of faint and indistinct but broad-spectrum fruit flavors, tending toward the citrus-y.

There seem to be two different types of Grillo vines, and they reportedly make differing wines. So also is the difference between "coastal" and higher-altitude Grillos supposed to matter nontrivially, with coastal generally preferred. Most often, it seems, one encounters blends of these different types. (Technically, there are four official clones of Grillo: Regione Sicilia 297, VFP 91, VFP 92, and VFP 93.)

The biotypes are known simply as "A" and "B", and are described thus (from Giampiero Nadali):

  • Biotype A has a compact cluster, high productivity, produces a concentration of musts with low sugar, low pH, high acidity, wines have notes of citrus and vegetables; it corresponds to the modern Grillo wines that we appreciate fresh, and it is the basis of actual Marsala (along with Catarratto and Inzolia.

  • Biotype B has a loose bunch, low productivity, produces musts with a high sugar concentration, high pH, low acidity, wines have great structure, with descriptors notes of spice and tropical fruit; it corresponds to the Grillo that already existed before the arrival of the British in Marsala (1770), a vine that produces 18 degrees alcohol at the harvest, "naturally", that is, without the need for any fortification.

The problem is that it is virtually impossible to know a priori which wine is of which biotype—in fact, most of the growers do not themselves yet know of which types their vines are. Nadali states that most vines today are of the "A" type, in part because it is more productive; local producers hope, however, to re-inyroduce the "B" type to wider use.

Factoid: Grillo was used in one of Julius Caesar's favorite wines, the sweet Mamertino of Messina.


Some Descriptions of Grillo Wines

  • Wine Searcher

    "Grillo can achieve very high levels of potential alcohol when left to hang on the vine. This is a desirable trait in fortified wine, but the modern preference for crisp, low-alcohol Italian white wines does has not advanced Grillo’s popularity. At its best, Grillo shows a range of citrus flavors, usually led by lemon. Most modern examples are competitively priced."

  • Testimony of a wine junkie

    "Grillo is a versatile grape; some wines have a lovely freshness, a subtle fruitness, stunning acids and finish that goes towards the Sea with some saltiness. In the next you might find a wine where the fruit is warmer and sweeter, with exotic fruits and or has aromatic notes – that takes it towards a sauvignon blanc. And when you think you've got it – you find yourself with a slightly oxidized wine with fresh fruits and great complexity – one that just blows your taste buds away. It’s a wine makers grape, it’s a grape that brings terroir, it’s a winelovers grape! It is obvious that the terroir is important as well as the wine making when it comes to the style of wine. In this case there is also another thing in play; there are two biotypes of grillo, called A and B. A tends to have more acids, lower sugar and more citrus flavours and B more sugar, tropical fruit and aromatic spice."

  • Wine making Talk

    "This variety can attain high levels of alcohol especially when it is left long to hang on its vines . . . its modern versions have already come up with Italian white wines that carry the crisp flavor and low alcohol levels. . . As for its good side, the Grillo comes with a wide range of citrus flavors and normally emphasizes the hint of lemon above all. Its modern outcomes these days are more competitively priced in the wine market. . . The sensation it brings to your palate can be light yet persistent especially with its delicate fruit notes."

  • drunk.com

    "The wine it produces can be moderately acidic, full bodied, and aromatic, with notes of jasmine, pear, quince, lemon, cashews, and sometimes and overriding smokiness."

  • Wine Lovers Page

    "But now and again, a Grillo-based white dramatically exceeds expectations, demonstrating that there's real quality in this variety for the producer willing to make the effort to bring it out."

  • The Wine Hub

    "A true chameleon! A grape variety with “super camouflaging powers.” The wines made from it can have so many different styles. . . I have selected a couple of important things from almost two pages about the variety that I found in the book: 'Late-harvested coastal Grillo wines can be a distinctive gold that turns amber with time. They have a light nose of citrus fruits, apple, and almonds. Wine texture is solid, by virtue of high glycerin content. The taste is slightly astringent and salty in the mouth. These wine’s acidity remains average, yet their alcohol levels can reach 18 percent… – If Grillo is protected from oxygen before, during, and after a cool fermentation, it can acquire grapefruit and passion fruit smells not dissimilar to those in Sauvignon Blanc… '"

  • Wine For Normal People.

    "I’ve heard that Grillo can make decent wines, similar to full-flavored tropical Chardonnay but I can only judge based on the one I tried. It was outstanding in one way — it was maybe the lamest, most boring wine I’ve had in months. And in my odyssey of exploring more Italian wines, this is a profound fail."

  • winegeeks

    "As a table wine Grillo can have pleasant notes of citrus and high acidity, as well as an affinity for new oak, but these examples are very rare."

  • Exalted rations

    "Though Grillo’s organoleptic characteristics are almost nothing like the Burgundian/Californian juice giant that is Chardonnay, Grillo is every bit as muscular, structured, and complex, and on the right day I might tell you even more so. This is the kind of white that if served at room temperature to a blindfolded drinker could be mistaken for a red wine due to its intensity, weight, and almost tannic structure."


Some Grillos to Try

(About this list.)

There is a plethora of Grillo wines available, most at very reasonable prices; in fact, it looks like the plethora is because it is a cheap, easy-to-sell white. The problem is to pick the princes out from the frogs, and it is not easy: large numbers of Grillos have one or maybe two favorable reviews, yet there is little consensus. Then, when one does find a wine frequently recommended, it is in the second tier of Grillo prices, which mainly seems to run from $30 to $35 (obviously someone thinks there are Grillos worth that much). We eventually came up with the list below, but it could easily have looked rather different—as we said, there seems little critical consensus, with almost every reviewer recommending some Grillo no one else mentions (with a few exceptions).

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Feudo Arancio Grillo, $8 - $9.
    (Do not confuse this with their "Stemmari" bottling.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    But now and again, a Grillo-based white dramatically exceeds expectations, demonstrating that there's real quality in this variety for the producer willing to make the effort to bring it out. Today's wine from Feudo Arancio is a fine example, a worthy alternative to Chardonnay for those in search of a full-bodied, aromatic white. .  Golden in color, transparent but bright. Attractive and forward aromas, citric lemon-lime with a gentle whiff of wildflowers, are accented with grace notes of honey and almond. Full-bodied and ripe, flavors are consistent with the nose, crisp and pleasantly acidic. A touch of subtle minerality joins snappy citrus and delicate almond in a long finish. Very interesting wine.

    Big and fruity, some pineapple and banana on the nose and really rich, round mouthfeel. It's bold, powerful, and broad shouldered. If this wine were a woman and you were dancing with her, she would be leading. (And I say that as a short guy who doesn't dance well and tends to date taller gals.)

    ♣ Wine Spectator (August 2008), "Best Value".

    Fresh apple and pear aromas follow through to a medium body with good fruit and a clean finish in this appealing Italian white.

    Light in color and lean in consistency, this is a refreshing white made from a traditional Sicilian variety called Grillo. Aromas of citrus, peach and stone fruit are clean and intense and the wine has a slightly sour touch on the finish. 86 points.

    [Google-translated from Swedish:] Straw-yellow color. The fragrance is rich with tropical touches, such as mango and papaya. The palate is fresh and fruity with hints of jasmine and tropical fruit. The wine has a lively acidity.

    Our review: Pure yellow gold in color, this wine has aromas of tropical fruit with a distinct spice note. Fruitful on the palate, the flavors have some herbal character. The finish is lengthy with considerable depth. Our rating: Most definitely not a wine for sipping, we suggest pairing it with flavorful dishes, such as a pasta with a rich sauce, which is how we enjoyed our bottle. There's a lot of complexity here, but it doesn't always work harmoniously. Still, we rate it Above Average.

    The Feudo ($8, purchased) is not only a $10 Hall of Fame quality wine, but another example of how far and how fast Sicily has come in terms of wine quality. It’s a dry white wine that is clean and fresh, and even a bit rich, with some sort of licorice-flavored peach fruit. . . Does this wine taste like white Burgundy? Nope. But it’s not supposed to, is it?

    As we popped the cork it was immediately apparent that this was not the typical Sicilian white wine. A full-bodied bouquet and definite personality were the first impression. Chilled properly, the first sips revealed an elegant flavor and images of the orient. A taste of spices, green pepper corns, completed this clean yet flavorful white wine. . . Color: Hay yellow. Bouquet: Jasmine and spices. Flavor: Clean full-bodied flavor, flowers and spices, the residual is green pepper corns.


  • Tenuta Rapitala Grillo, $12 - $13.
    (Don't confuse this with their various blended wines containing some Grillo, such as "Piano Maltese".)
         ($12.24 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    [P]ale yellow in the glass with obvious citrus scents. Pleasant and complex flavors of Meyer lemon, minerals and citrus pith combine with clean acidity for a crisp, refreshing finish. This palate-cleansing wine would be perfect with appetizers, light summer dishes, or just to sip on a warm afternoon.

    Squeaky clean, pale straw with green tinge. Full-blown, sweet tropical fruit but there is freshness too. Commercial but well executed or perhaps it is the inherent quality of the grape?

    ♣ Wine Spectator (2011 vintage), 88 points.

    Here’s a straightforward and simple white wine that delivers fresh peach and citrus aromas backed by a touch of bitter almond. The texture is thick and creamy. 85 points.

    [Google-translated from Italian:] Only when you have complete mastery of their own means you can make risky choices. This is the case of this wine, whose grapes were harvested at an early stage, around the second half of August. The result is excellent and at the same time particular. A wine with a straw yellow color with greenish reflections, which offers cool shades of small white flowers and lime zest. In the mouth it is balanced and harmonious, without indulging in cloying. A necessary and this acidity that combines style with softness to make this cup persistent and intense. It is evident that approaches with great ease fish dishes; first and second, but also dishes of white meat. Great with a rich, oily fish fry.

    Pale brassy yellow with brilliant brassy reflections and white rim. The bouquet is moderately intense, with minerality and some wet cardboard, which means the wine has yet to recover from being bottled. On the palate it’s fairly bright, with lemony fruit supported by hints of banana and by some savory flinty accents that flow into a fairly long warm lemon laced finish with underlying flint. It’s a bit laxer than I might have liked, and also a touch overripe. A little more tightness would have been nice.

    [Google-translated from Italian:] The Grillo, ancient indigenous grape of Sicily, gives this wine a golden yellow color with green reflections, Mediterranean scents, herbal notes, floral and fruity, full-flavored and harmonious supported by an elegant acidity. It's a sunny wine and charming with its intense aromatic scents. The grapes come from vineyards planted between 300 and 550 meters above sea level and are collected in the second week of August when they have not yet reached full maturity.


  • Monte Bernardi "Fuori Strada" ("Off Road") Grillo, $11 - $14.
    (This is not in a bottle but a so-called "Tetra Pak", supposedly environmentally friendly, plus it's a liter not a fifth.)

    Some quotations and facts:
    Tetra Pak
    ♣ There isn't much literature yet on this wine, probably owing to its being new on the market, and somewhat unusual in its packaging.

    The 2011 Fuori Strada Off Road Grillo by Monte Bernardi begins with aromas of zesty citrus and a little melon along with some floral notes. The wine tastes, crisp, simple and good with fresh fruit flavors plus some nice minerality and good acidity. It ends with flavorful fruit on the medium length finish. Thanks to its easy drinking character and food flexibility, this one is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Taste Rating: 7; Cost Rating: 8; Overall Rating: 7.3. Recommended Buy.

    Fuori Strada Off Road Grillo by Monte Bernardi comes packaged in a box, a tetra pack to be exact, the stuff your coconut water comes in. It tastes way more expensive then you would expect and the reason is, it actually is more expensive then you would expect. The winemaker, Michael Schmelzer, told me how he is able to save on costs with shipping the wine since the package is lighter and more travel-friendly then a case of bottles. He is able to offer the consumer a better quality product existing in a not-so-attractive package. One thing that is a plus or minus depending on how you look at it is this: the wine is ready to drink now. Since it is not in a bottle it can’t be kept in your cellar to open when that special time comes along. I would suggest drinking it immediately with no reason.

    I’d like to recommend a wonderful value-driven Grillo from Monte Bernardi called ‘Fuori Strada’. The wine’s Italian name translates to ‘Off Road’ and I’ve just got to say that it is off-the-charts delicious. It’s light, refreshing and captures the (rustic) tranquility of the Mediterranean. And if that’s not enough, its packaging is totally cool and eco-sublime. The golden Tetra Pak carton creates 80% less greenhouse gas, fitting perfectly within our mission, and, as an added boon, you can easily palm the carton and practice your spiral passes. And, did I mention that package is a liter in size?


  • Duca di Salaparuta "Corvo Terrae Dei" Grillo, $12 - $16.
    (They have other Grillo bottlings—see the next listing.)
         ($15.84 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    ♣ There are surprisingly few writeups for a wine from such a renowned vintner, but so it is.

    [Google-translated from Italian:] [It] shows a brilliant straw yellow color and nuances of greenish yellow, very transparent. The nose denotes intense, clean and pleasing aromas that start with hints of apple, pear and plum followed by aromas of almond, hawthorn and broom. In the mouth has good correspondence to the nose, a crisp attack balanced,however, by alcohol, good body, intense flavors, pleasing roundness. The finish is persistent with flavors of apple, plum and almond.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (2009), 88 points; a Top Value wine.


  • Duca di Salaparuta Kados Grillo, $12 - $17.
    (They have other Grillo bottlings—see the previous listing.)
         ($17.24 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    A pure expression of Grillo, this offers clean fruit, with pristine aromas of citrus, honey and white peach. The finish is crisp and streamlined. 88 points.

    This is barrel fermented, and then goes into gain some complexity without wood’s covering the varietal nuances. Brassy greenish gold with brilliant golden reflections and greenish highlights. Pleasant nose, with fresh lemony fruit supported by butterscotch, some spice, and floral notes, and as it opens Mediterranean scrub forest and heather as the butterscotch fades. On the palate it’s clean, fairly full, and languid, with bright lemony fruit supported by savory lemon acidity and tannins that have a slight burr and flow into a warm lemony finish. Bracing, with nice character, and will work well with flavorful fish or creamy dishes, including those revolving around white meats, and will age nicely for 3-5 years, and perhaps more.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (2008 vintage), 89 points.

    Hints of Sauvignon Blanc on the nose. The palate is full of powerful flavours of hay, lemon and minerals and just a touch of oak. 4/5 *

    Kados shows a pale straw yellow color and nuances of greenish yellow, very transparent. The nose denotes intense, clean, pleasing and refined aromas which start with hints of apple, pear and peach followed by aromas of citrus fruits, hawthorn, broom and almond. The mouth has good correspondence to the nose, a crisp attack and however balanced by alcohol, good body, intense flavors, agreeable. The finish is persistent with flavors of apple, peach and almond. Part of Kados ferments in barrique.

    With a beautiful straw yellow color, it had a floral, honeyed bouquet with mature pear, vanilla and honey aromas. On the palate it was full bodied, with good acidity and well balanced alcohol. The same flavor profile came through on the palate with a richness that was a delicious surprise. It had an almond note on the finish and soft tannins. It had a soft and velvety mouthfeel and was very long and persistent.

    Kudos to Kados: Here’s a lovely and surprisingly sophisticated white wine from Sicily (made with the native Grillo grape but fermented in oak for extra spice and zest) offered at an equally surprising low price. Great with fish or spaghetti con vongole, the wine shows light pulses of yellow flower, peach, white mineral and almond.


  • Fondo Antico "Grillo Parlante", $13 - $18.

    Some quotations and facts:

    An improvement over the previous vintage, this value wine shows a simple but clean aromatic profile, with citrus zest, Granny Smith apple and apricot. There’s a sweet touch of lemon mousse on the close. 86 points.

    White bouquet of flowers on the nose. Fresh herbs and peas are layered with melon and striking acidity loaded with minerals. 4/5 *

    This is happy clear aromas of apple, citrus, stone fruit, touch of mineral with a ripe fruit finish.

    Easy drinking wine – Pure Grillo fruit on the nose – Fresh with lots of citrus fruit and grapefruit on the palate.

    Ten years since its first vintage, this Grillo wine remains a reference point for its distinguishing pleasantness. Clear aromas of broom, honeydew melon, peach, tangerine and herbal notes. Vibrant in the mouth with an enticing soft ending.

    [Google-translated from Italian:] The wine is a pale straw yellow color and brilliant. Fresh fruit and floral notes including cedar, lemongrass, fishing. Olfactory intensity alive, pressing. Pleasant taste balance between soft notes, sour and savory. Long aromatic persistence.

    One was a Grillo Parlante, a white wine made from the grillo grape, which is also indigenous to the island. This bottling in particular was bright, minerally, and had a ton of gleaming acidity whetting our palates before dinner.


  • Caruso & Minini "Timpune" Grillo, $13 - $30.

    Some quotations and facts:

    Brilliant brass gold with gold reflections and some yellow in the rim. The bouquet is intense, with powerful mineral laced citrus supported by some honeysuckle and a fair amount of heather with some underlying sage and slight oxidative elements. Pleasant with quite a bit going on. On the palate it’s bright, with lively lemony pineapple fruit supported by mineral laced citric acidity with a fairly pronounced gunflint underpinning, and considerable warmth that flow into a long sour lemon-pineapple finish. Nice complexity and power, and will drink well with foods, from vegetable soups though fairly hearty fish. By comparison with the first two [Grillos tasted] it is more powerful, and will also age more, 5 years at least.

    Fermented in oak under controlled cold temperatures and aged in stainless on the lees, this wine has a lot of depth. The aromatics reveal light oak, apple, herbs and mineral. The palate brings concentrated, lemon-drenched apple flavors along with some peach. It has good acidity and a creamy, luxurious mouthfeel. It finishes with lingering lemon flavors. It’s delicious!

    Grillo tends to oxidize easily during winemaking. Timpune does in fact show distant aromas of butterscotch and caramel that fit squarely within the aromatic profile of the grape. Otherwise, the wine ends with fresh peach, citrus and pineapple. 86 points.

    Candied nose of banana and mango. Full on vanilla and marzipan flavours layered with generous fruit salad characters. 3/5 *

    This soft, light- to medium-bodied example [of Grillo] offers up sour lemon, wet stone and a lightly aromatic, floral quality. It would pair well with many vegetarian dishes and shellfish pasta.

    The nose is intense (but also elegant). Complex with a long finish.

    The best of Siciliy is slightly Baroque: the Islamic influence on the food, the architecture, the interior design… and the wines. Creamy and salty at the same time – it would be perfect with the couscous concentrated with fish sauces, tomatoes and garlic. After all, Marsala is the biggest fishing port in Europe. This is a brilliant wine with seafood.

    Initially very ripe. Savoury, herbal and sweet, lemony nose. Ripe, lemony and tropical fruit palate but with good focus and structure. Lemon and pineapple finish. Appealing.


  • Di Giovanna Grillo, $16 - $18.

    Some quotations and facts:

    [Google-translated from Italian:] Poured in the glass is crystal clear and shows beautiful straw color, texture. The impact on the nose with good intensity is characterized by exotic fruit, apple butter. In the mouth dry and hot, with good freshness and length.

    The color of hay in the sun, with nervy tastes of lemon, pineapple and honeydew, all tightened 'round with zesty, briny acidity; super with fish or tuna salad.

    Di Giovanna (an organic producer) shows a nice portfolio of easy-drinking white wines. This Grillo, for example, is redolent of passion fruit, lemon soda and vanilla cream. 86 points.

    Medium yellow colored. Bright and fresh. Notes of almond, pears and green apple on the nose. In mouth crisp and medium to full-bodied. Good fruit and acidity. A good food-pairing wine.

    A lithe white focused on Key lime and pineapple flavors, this hints at flowers and pinesap in the initial scent and finish.

    Aromas of pineapple, peaches and grapefruit (watch your drug interactions) Stainless steel fermentation and aging. Brilliant acidity. Goes well with anything you would squeeze a lemon on.

    Similar in acidity and the citric component of Sauvignon Blanc, it will appeal to a large variety of consumers. On the other hand though, it actually gets better with a little bottle aging and has more complexity on the mid-palate. The balance in the wine will cut through the creaminess of the grits and complement the freshness of the fish. Your best bet is to purchase Di Giovanna’s Grillo. Completely organic!


For a Splurge

The choice here seems clear: Marco De Bartoli "Grappoli di Grillo", costing around $36 at retail; regrettably, it seems hard to find in the U.S. A reasonable alternative would be the Nino Barraco Grillo, at about $25 retail; but it, too, is scarce. Good luck.



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