The Versatility Of Grillo And Nero d’Avola With Food

  • By Mattia Cianca
  • 27 Mar 2021
  • 5 MIN
  • Level 101
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Sicilian Seafood Stew and Couscous - Credit : Wines of Sicilia DOC

Grillo and Nero d'Avola have been subjected to various winemaking experiments over the last three decades, resulting in a plethora of styles that make the sommelier's job exciting when it comes to food and wine pairings; but these varied styles are also surprisingly diverse for both wine lovers and consumers.


Grillo was born from the crossing of two very characterful varieties: Lucido (Catarratto) and Zibibbo. The strength and adaptability of the first with the aromatic power of the second, created a unique and versatile variety.

From a simple aperitif to more complex and long-lasting flavours, the sparkling versions of this variety can really play with a wide range of dishes.

Grillo Sparkling (Charmat Method)

Here, the second fermentation takes place in the tank, preserving the freshness and varietal aromas. Fruity, citrusy notes, and fresh floral nuances make it the perfect accompaniment to raw seafood dishes and fried vegetarian snacks.

Freshly shucked Oysters with Finger Lime dressing  
Cauliflower Tempura with lemon Mayonnaise   

Grillo Sparkling (Traditional Method)  

As with Champagne and Franciacorta, the second fermentation takes place in the bottle. Most producers who use this method leave the wine on its lees for several months, and sometimes several years. This allows the wine to develop incredible toasted and cheese-like notes that combine with the natural salinity of the variety. The great freshness will support fatness and creaminess in dishes well, the broad and tertiary complexity will also be incredibly paired with stronger flavours like aged cheeses, nuts, and truffles.

Maine Lobster, Remoulade, Granny Smith and Black Truffle  
Crispy Fried Chicken seasoned with Aromatic Rock Salt  

Grillo Fermented In Stainless Steel  

Vibrant, aromatic, and marked by notes of grapefruit, apricot, and passionfruit. Depending upon the harvest period the level of alcohol may change, but it still retains an amazing freshness and a persistent salinity it retains an amazing freshness and a persistent salinity. The stainless-steel fermentation preserves all of the precious aromas and flavours that characterize those wines. Traditionally served with Mediterranean seafood but great as an aperitif as well. The more aromatic versions would suit mildly-spiced Asian or South American dishes.

Thai Mango and Shrimp Salad 
Octopus Ceviché, Orange, Ginger, and Coriander   

Grillo Fermented/Aged In Oak  

Some of the best examples I have tried really reminded me of great white Burgundies in terms of complexity, length, and minerality; the aromatic profile is slightly diminished and a crunchy saltiness increased. Definitely a different style of Grillo that allows us to pair it not only with rich seafood dishes but also with chicken and pork-based recipes.

Roasted Pork Belly with Cider and Cream sauce  
Grilled Scallops, Walnuts, Yoghurt, Marjoram, Anchovy   

Grillo fortified  

Let’s not forget that Grillo is also the base variety of many great Marsalas, in fact many producers choose to use it 100%. From dry to sweet and from young to very old, these wines are in a world of their own. Drier styles can be served as an aperitif with salty finger food, and sweeter ones with anything ranging from blue cheese and foie gras, to desserts.

Sheep Milk Cheese filled Ravioli, Saffron, Pumpkin and Honey  
Sicilian Cannoli with whipped Ricotta and Candied Orange Peel  

Nero d’Avola 

Nero d’Avola is considered the king of Sicilian grapes and is planted in almost all the wine-growing areas. It is rich in personality, deep ruby-red colour, expressing a high aromatic content with fruity, floral, and spicy notes, excellent structure, high in tannins, and creating medium to full-bodied wines.

Nero d’Avola Rosato  

Mostly made in stainless steel tanks to preserve its fruit and aromatic power. Floral notes like those of hibiscus meet hints of wild strawberries, raspberries, and rhubarb.  

Radish, Pomegranate and Fresh Mint Salad
Red Tuna Tartare   

Nero d’Avola Unoaked  

This style of Nero d’Avola is generally smoother and more suited for early drinking styles. One will find red and dark fruits, cherry, mulberry, and plum notes with spices, and Mediterranean herbs. Different terroirs will express different characteristics, from bay leaf to oregano, from thyme to sun-dried tomato. These wines are juicy on the palate and marked by soft ripe tannins. This diverse aromatic profile makes it suitable for a wide range of dishes from vegetarian and seafood-based pastas to mild red meats and charcuterie.

Spaghetti with Sardines, Pine Nuts, Sultana and Wild Fennel  
Smoked Beetroot Carpaccio, Maple Syrup, and Chives  

Nero d’Avola Oak Aged  

Nero d’Avola with oak is a complex combination of ripe fruit and balsamic notes melting into opulent and more concentrated long living wine. Mostly French barrels are used but one will find some American oak also. On the nose one will discover a darker fruit spectrum turning into incense, mint, and black truffle with age. These “chocolatey” wines are able to stand up to more complex preparations including game meats and chocolate-based desserts.

Roasted Venison Loin with Rosemary and Pickled Cherries  
Beef Stew with Coconut Milk and Salted Peanuts  
Red Tuna Tartare

Sicilian Seafood Stew and Couscous - Credit : Wines of Sicilia DOC