Obscure grapes and wines: Grillo
In another of our periodic excursions into the odd and obscure, let's examine today a classic Sicilian grape that's been around for thousands of years and that most of us have never heard of: Grillo ("Greel-loe"), a variety so ancient that it was used in one of Julius Caesar's favorite wines, the sweet, luscious Mamertino of Messina.
In more recent centuries, Grillo toiled anonymously as the primary grape of Marsala, the strongly fortified, Sherry-like sweet wine of Western Sicily, which is better known to most of the world in the kitchen (as the base for dishes as varied as chicken Marsala and Zabaglione) than on the dining table.
In the postwar years, when the Sicilian wine industry sought to upgrade its image by modernizing what might politely be called a "traditional" status, Grillo enjoyed a brief resurgence and was planted widely, although in more recent decades, much of it has been ripped out in favor of more familiar varieties, with plantings falling to a relatively nominal 5,000 acres in the 1990s, according to Jancis Robinson.
Much of that output still goes into Marsala, and more of it goes into bland, neutral white wines. 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.
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Feudo Arancio 2002 Grillo Sicilia ($11.99)
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. U.S. importer: Prestige Wine Imports Corp., NYC. (July 13, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Good with just about any seafood or fish, it made an outstanding match with a light seafood sausage made from scallops, shrimp and sockeye salmon with a touch of tarragon.
VALUE: Although this intriguing and complex white is well worth the $12 I paid, it makes sense to shop around, as pricing at Internet merchants varies dramatically, sometimes as low as $6.
WHEN TO DRINK: Although the style of the wine suggests that it should hold under careful cellaring, the blue-plastic synthetic cork can't be relied on for long-term aging. Drink over the next year or so.
WEB LINK: The winery Website, part of the Gruppo Mezzocorona, a consortium of eight producers in four Italian regions, features Feudo Arancio in English at this link:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Look for Feudo Arancio on Wine-Searcher.com,
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Wednesday, July 14, 2004