Thursday, April 4, 2024

Grape Spotlight: Sicilia DOC Grillo

"Beginning with the Greeks, who arrived on the eastern part of Sicily in the 8th century BCE, the idea of methodical grapegrowing practices for the purpose of quality winemaking firmly took root on the island. As the centuries passed, Phoenicians and Romans traded Sicilian wines based on their power and their distinctive qualities. The best vines were propagated, viticulture developed, and thus Sicilian wines were promoted on and off the island. Today, we see the fruits of these labors. Though many things have changed, most of Sicily’s indigenous grape varieties and time-honored winegrowing traditions continue to play an important role. Thanks to meticulous vineyard tending and gentle grape handling in Sicily’s wineries, Sicilia DOC wines feature the medley of flavors that Sicily has been known for since ancient times and which represent some of the best wines of Italy." -- Wines of Sicily DOC

Sicily is Italy's southernmost wine region and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea It is blessed with consistently bright sunshine and reliably moderate rainfall, Sicily's classic Mediterranean climate is ideally suited to the production of wine grapes. This is because the warm, dry climate means that mildews and rots are kept to a minimum, particularly in well-ventilated areas that benefit from coastal breezes. This low disease pressure means that chemical sprays are hardly needed, and much Sicilian wine is produced from organic grapes.

There are a number of denominations spread throughout the island with the broadest being Terre Siciliane IGT and Sicilia DOC. As of 2017, all varietal wines made from either Grillo or Nero d'Avola must be classified as Sicilia DOC.  According to, "Sicily's soils, and the mountains from which they came, are of particular interest when it comes to studying the island's viticulture. Mount Etna, the towering stratovolcano, dominates the island's eastern skyline, and is responsible for the mineral-rich, dark soils that characterize the Etna DOC vineyards. Vines are now being planted higher up on the volcanic slopes, to capitalize on the cooler air and richer soils there. Fifty miles (80km) south, the Iblei Mountains stake their place in eastern Sicilian wine. On their lower slopes and the coastal plains below them, the DOCs of Siracusa, Noto, Eloro and Vittoria sweep from east to west, forming a crescent that mirrors the arcing coastline. In western Sicily, the volcanic hills are less individually dramatic but just as influential to the soil type".

Apparently the origins of Grillo are still being debated, but what is clear, is that this grape is well suited to the hot, dry Sicilian climate. Traditionally Grillo has been used in the popular Marsala fortified wines because of its high levels of sugar and the ease with which it oxidizes. More recently, winemakers have tuned their processes to use Grillo to make fresh, light white wine with nutty, fruit-driven flavors.  Some winemakers have started using lees contact to create deeper, fuller-bodied expressions of the grape, with aromas and flavors that resemble ripe citrus and spice. 

During last month's Slow Wine tour in Washington DC, I attended the From Vine to Glass: Sicilia DOC's Native Varietals seminar sponsored by Wines of Sicily DOC.  This seminar featured a trio of very distinct Grillo wines.  

Baglio Bonsignore "OI" Sicilia DOC 2022 Grillo
The winery farms 13 hectares of grapes near Naro, in Southwestern Sicily, with four hectares planted with 10 year old Grillo vines.  The vineyards are planted at about 1,000 feet in limestone and clayish soils. We started with a very complex wine, tropical and nutty aromas that follows with loads of character. Fresh and mineral driven with some creamy depth.  

Bagliesi "Terre Di Toto" Sicilia DOC 2022 Grillo
The winery is also located near Naro and the estates are spread over twenty-five hectares in the province of Agrigento and also planted around 1,00 feet and similar calcareous-clayey soils.  This wine is a blend of  Grillo grapes from the estates and is leaner with bright green apples, slight grass, and salivating salinity. This is a patio consumer -- it won't last long.

Di Giovanna "Helios" Sicilia DOC 2022 Grillo
This winery is located in the mountainside of Monte Genuardo, a protected nature reserve and situated on the western side of Sicily,  They operate five family estates of almost 100 hectares -- composed of 65 hectares of vineyards, 14 hectares of olive groves, and 21 hectares of wheat fields and forests. These vineyards are  located in the small DOC of Contessa Entellina within the Sambuca di Sicilia DOC and most are planted on the limestone and ancient marine slopes of Monte Genuardo up to 2,700 feet above seal level.  This is an interesting wine, both refreshing and funky featuring  ripe citrus and spicy aromas and flavors. There's also significant structure with appreciable tannins and minerality on the finish. 

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