A Closer Look At Grillo

  • By Mattia Cianca
  • 26 Feb 2021
  • 5 MIN
  • Level 101
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Grillo grape - Credit : Consorzio di Tutela Vini DOC Sicilia

Grillo, also known as Riddu, is one of the most important white grape varieties of Sicily and it has been cultivated on the island since the second half of the 19th century. It was created by crossing Catarratto and Zibibbo (the local name for Muscat of Alexandria).  

History  

The origins of Grillo are linked to Favara (province of Agrigento) thanks to the agronomist and ampelographer Baron Antonio Mendola. As proof of this, a document written by Mendola himself has been found and can be considered Grillo's 1874 birth certificate.  

"White seed of Catarratto, artificially impregnated with Zibibbo, in flower in 1869 in my vineyard Piana dei Peri, near Favara; harvested August 27 of the same year; sown in pots March 3, 1870, and born about May 20. In 1871 I observed a small plant in vase 105, which stood out well among its many sisters for vigor and color of the leaves. I drew a small club and grafted it in February 1872 on a sturdy rootstock of black Inzolia, to hasten the fruiting and thus had the pleasure of tasting the first bunches in the autumn of 1874. I dedicate this plant to the dear Engineer G.B. Cerletti, Director of the enological station of Gattinara".  

The very first name of Grillo was in fact Moscato Cerletti, created to give more aromatics and structure to the wines of Marsala.  

Grillo had a rapid expansion in Sicily until it occupied 60% of the island's total vineyard area by the 1930s.  

Characteristics  

Traditionally trained using Albarello Marsalese, it adapts well to guyot training systems with mixed pruning and double guyot.  

According to Consorzio di Tutela Vini DOC Sicilia Grillo is a vigorous variety characterized by medium to large leaves. Its thick-skinned berries are medium to large and green/yellow in color with orange/pink hues on the exposed parts.  One of the main features of this variety is its ability to achieve high sugar concentration while keeping a relatively low ph.  

Grillo has good heat and drought resistance and reasonable resistance to downy mildew. Only powdery mildew can seriously threaten the health of the entire vine. Grillo wines are generally deep straw yellow in color with a great aromatic profile (think of its parents). Citrusy, herbaceous, and floral on the nose. Fresh, savoury, and salty on the palate.  

The variety is mostly planted in the province of Trapani as well as Palermo and Agrigento. In recent years it has also been planted in other areas of the region. 

Styles  

Thanks to its high alcohol potential, Grillo was originally used exclusively for the production of  Marsala.  However, its modern potential has been recognized by the island's younger generation of winemakers, who are bottling it in styles ranging from fresh, lively and easy-drinking, through more structured wines, to traditional method sparkling. 

Studies have shown that the great versatility of Grillo is the result of two bio-types that have developed over the years, one being fresher and lighter, the other being more aromatic and structured.  

Depending upon the vinification technique used, Grillo wines can have very different characteristics.  A modern approach, often followed by large producers, favours reductive vinification: the absence of oxygen during fermentation and the use of selected yeasts accentuates the citrus and floral sensations of fresh, easy-drinking wines.  

Geography  

Sicilia DOC includes the territory of the whole region and Grillo can be either labelled as a varietal wine or as two-variety wine. In this case it can be blended with Catarratto, Grecanico, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, or Inzolia.  

Grillo is also an important player in the following DOCs: Alcamo, Delia NivolelliMonreale, Erice, Mamertino di Milazzo, and Menfi e Salaparuta

Grillo grape - Credit : Consorzio di Tutela Vini DOC Sicilia