Sunday, March 05, 2023

Two white Sicilian wines that are worth seeking out

With all the hubbub over local grapes these days, one can easily go down the rabbit hole in the Italian wine journey. Even once considered mundane and common grapes are getting restyled as unique wines. Sicily, historically a bastion of quantitatively produced wines, is where we land today. And Grillo is the grape, appropriate for the rabbit hole as the grape is loved and sought after by the local rabbits. On one island, Mozia, the sole producer there had to suspend production of their wine, as the furry little mammals nearly decimated the vines due to their insatiable hunger (and thirst?) for the grape.

Fortunately, Sicily has many more vineyards where the grape thrives.

But today we’re looking for quality, not quantity.

Which leads me to my latest venture, which will be a bit more pedestrian than my usual naval gazing expeditions into Italy and Italian wine.

Two such bottles came to my attention recently, as they were sent to me by a firm trying to get the word out on the renaissance that Grillo is witnessing. These two wines, by no means, are the only word on such revolution. But they happened to land on my front doorstep. So, I thought to pop the corks and drive them around the kitchen for a few days, getting to know them better, tasting them, drinking them, trying them with several kinds of foods, and hoping to find something to like.

I did!

Quick tasting notes on the two wines I opened:

2020 di Giovanna Helios Grillo 830 metri 12.5% (appx retail $25-32)

Light yellow

Buttery, flowery, dry

Crisp, good acid, nice clean finish. Not Cloying. Good salinity. Meaty but not overbearing.  Nice quaff.


2021 Feudo Maccari Olli Grillo 13% (appx retail $17-20)

Lighter yellow

Flowers, sage, herbal (ala the scrubland in the south of France).

Fresh fruit, dry but taste the grape. Fruit is ample,rich.

Nice exotic almost curry like flavors, but very understated. Delicious wine.

Of the two, the Helios reminded me of wines I tend to drink regularly, wines like Verdicchio, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and Soave. I think it is because wines of that type tend to be a understated in their fruit, alcohol and voluptuousness. More introverted, leaving the wine drinker reaching out to meet the wine, rather than having it all thrown in one’s face. I tried this wine with swordfish and capers. It was a stunning combination. Later the next day I tried the wine, again, with some left over roasted chicken and home made potato salad (we are in Texas, after all) and again, it was a good match-up. It drank well on its own, but I think because the style of wine suits me.

The Maccari was a fuller, more in-your-face, extroverted style, but still pleasant. It went well with the foods, but I could also see it as just being a good cocktail wine, one that you could open with friends of all persuasions, from the serious wine drinker to the beginner looking to wean themselves off of those buttery Californian chardonnays that flood the market in these parts.

Grillo is an intriguing grape in 2023. Not so much in the early 1980's, when I was bringing in cheap and (not so) cheerful Sicilian wine to the Texas market. There was a reason Grillo, then, was famous for Marsala wine. Now, Marsala is all but a memory, like Port, and the younger generations haven’t yet “discovered” them. Until then, white wine lovers would be well directed to these two wines.

My first trip to Italy and Sicily was in the early 1970’s (which would make me now ancient) and I have returned to the island many times in the past 50 years. I love the progress and evolution that has taken place in Sicily (and in Italy) in those years, and these two wines definitely speak to a more nuanced and artisanal approach to winemaking in Sicily – quality is usurping quantity – and we are all the better off because of it.



© written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
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