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The Grillo Grape


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About Grillo

(Synonyms: Ariddhru, Arridu, Riddu, Rossese Bianco.)

Background

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):

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


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 short 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.
Donnafugata "SurSur" Grillo

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Vibrant and savory, this opens with lovely aromas of spring flower, citrus, herb and white stone fruit. The round, juicy palate offers ripe white peach, juicy grapefruit, pineapple and mineral alongside fresh acidity. A saline note backs up the finish. 91 points, Editors' Choice.

This wine is a lovely straw yellow color in the glass, and it exudes fresh aromas. Notes of white fruits and peach mingle with scents of wild flowers and freshly cut grass. On tasting, the palate is inviting and light, with bright flavors and a lovely texture.

This wine was crafted of 100% Grillo; it poured a straw yellow into the glass; summertime fruit salad of peaches, grapefruit, lime zest, melon along with white flowers cascade from the glass; crisp and racy on the palate with lively citrus zest and zesty acidity coat the palate; perfect pleasing with light summer cuisine and refreshing to sip on its own; 13% ABV so refreshing in the summer heat.

A fruity white with sliced apple, lemon and celery aromas and flavors. Full body, bright acidity and a clean finish. Outstanding crisp Grillo. 90 points. [James Suckling]

It is pale straw colored and opens with musty honeysuckle, pear and stone fruit like bouquet. On the palate, this wine is light bodied, delicate and balanced. The flavor profile is a gentle mineral infused green pear with notes of stone fruit and a hint of pineapple. T he finish is dry and its flavors fade away nicely.

[This wine] is a young, fresh and fruity Grillo that pairs beautifully with food and stands happily on its own. The name Sur Sur means cricket in Arabic (a language once also spoken in Sicily) and the label shows the scents and colors of spring. This single-variety wine is crisp and bright with notes of white peaches and grapefruits combined with hints of aromatic herbs.



Tasca d'Almerita Tenuta Regaleali "Cavallo delle Fate" Grillo
(This wine is sold under various fragments of its full name; look for "Cavallo delle Fate" Grillo.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

The 2015 Sicilia Grillo Cavallo delle Fate Tenuta Regaleali opens to attractive roundness and a more evident sense of richness that suits this white wine well. It is aged on the lees in stainless steel for four months. The bouquet reveals apricot, citrus, honeydew melon and a touch of saffron. The wine offers toned lines and some soft contours that together form a very affordable medium-bodied white. 90 points) [RobertParker.com]

Bright straw-yellow. Simple apple and pear aromas are lifted by a subdued herbal nuance. At once tightly wound and rather delicate, showing a fine-grained texture and good purity. Not an especially generous style; in fact I find this a little dilute. Finishes with moderate aromatic persistence and a complicating suggestion of mint. [International Wine Cellar, December 2015]

The 2015 Sicilia Grillo Cavallo delle Fate Tenuta Regaleali opens to attractive roundness and a more evident sense of richness that suits this white wine well. It is aged on the lees in stainless steel for four months. The bouquet reveals apricot, citrus, honeydew melon and a touch of saffron. The wine offers toned lines and some soft contours that together form a very affordable medium-bodied white. 90 points. [Wine Advocate]

Apricot, melon, verbena, stone and spice notes are fresh and focused in this well-knit, light-bodied white. A crowd-pleaser, with a zesty finish. 88 points. [Wine Spectator, November 30, 2015]

[P]oured a lovely bright gold color. Smells of tangerine and honeysuckle were excellent. Light, mouth-wateringly acidic, and filled with gossamer flavors of citrus and tropical fruit instantly won my affections. Finished long on hints juniper, tangerine, ginger, and a sweet-spot 13% alcohol. 90 points.

Golden in color, this vino is aromatic with hints of citrus. It’s a sumptuous dry Italian white for summer times.

[This is] a wine that seems to embody the encompassing geography of sea, sky and mountain in one sleek, spare package, mirroring the shimmer of its pale gold hue. Notes of roasted lemon, spiced pear and acacia open to aspects of dried meadowy herbs and flowers and a kind of sunny leafy rasp; there’s a touch of fig and a wisp of salty iodine to a finish replete with burgeoning limestone and flint minerality; acidity bright as sunlight lends vibrant immediacy.



For a Splurge

The ideal choice, were cost no bar, would be the Marco De Bartoli Vecchio Samperi Ventennale Vino Liquoroso Secco; but that runs in the high two-digit range ($75 - $80), which is pushing it even for a splurge. A little closer to Earth is the same maker's Marco de Bartoli "Grappoli di Grillo", though it's scarce. (After that, you are into the list above.)

• That wine at 1000 Corks
• That wine at Wine Searcher
• Its Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.
• Its CellarTracker pages.

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