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Grillo

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Grillo is a Sicilian white grape variety most famous for its role in the island's fortified Marsala wines. It is still widely planted on Sicily despite Marsala's fall from fashion, and is now used most commonly in a variety of still white wines, both on its own and as part of a blend. Grillo, when vinified to a high standard, makes a fresh, light white wine with nutty, fruit-driven flavours that include lemon and apple.

There is some debate as to the origins of Grillo, as its earliest mention comes as recently as the mid-19th century. Some believe that Grillo is native to Sicily, suggesting it is the progeny of Catarratto and Muscat of Alexandria. Others have hypothesised that it was brought to the island from the southern Italian region of Puglia. There is even some evidence to suggest that this was the variety in the Roman wine Mamertino, a particular favourite of Julius Caesar.

Grillo is well suited to the hot, dry Sicilian climate. Its high levels of sugar and the ease with which it oxidises make it a good option for fortification. Unfortunately, Sicily's other great white contender, Catarratto, yields more highly and so became the preferred choice for Marsala, which led to a decline in plantings of Grillo in the 20th century.

Happily, as focus has shifted from quantity to quality, Sicilian producers are beginning to revisit and replant Grillo, particularly as viticultural and vinicultural techniques have improved. Winemakers are now able to control thiols more easily, giving Grillo wines with more pleasant, fruit-driven aromas rather than the rather more earthy styles that were previously available. Some commentators have suggested that this is not a true expression of the variety.

Grillo has become a viable contender for the quintessential Italian table white: light, easy drinking and often associated with very good value. In this regard it competes with Soave, Gavi and Pinot Grigio.
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