Thursday, July 25, 2013

Coastal Grillo

Winemaker Giacomo Ansaldi showed us a vineyard in the contrada (similar to a neighborhood) of Spagnola. The vines faced the Stagnone Lagoon toward Mozia Island to the west.  Further on was the Mediterranean Sea.  Giacomo, Fran, and I zig-zagged through old, scraggly alberello vines.  They were Grillo, the white variety prized for making the highest quality Marsala, called Vergine.  Ansaldi dreamed of making wine from that vineyard, but someone else owned it.

Giacomo drove us back to his cantina, La Divina, where we tasted several Grillos made from grapes harvested in the 1990s on Mozia Island. The tan-colored wines had citrus and nutty smells. They were dry on the palate. Their body expressed solidity.  Intertwined sourness, bitterness, and salinity trailed off as the flavors slowly finished.  They were my favorite wines among his vini perpetui (plural of vino perpetuo). Vini perpetui are perpetual wines, wines which live forever.

What happened that day is described in Chapter 4 of The World of Sicilian Wine.  There, you will learn more about vini perpetui.

Since then I have been searching for young coastal Grillos. They are difficult to find. Nearly all are blended with Grillo from higher altitudes. The hilly ones are more aromatic, but lighter in body.

While judging a wine competition, Radici del Sud, in Apulia, I finally came across a coastal Grillo. It was labeled “Ariddhru” whose flavors brought me back to Ansaldi’s Mozia vini perpetui.   Because it was young, a 2012, it smelled of melon and apple, scents mostly imparted by fermentation. The mouth had some, but not all, of the thickness, sourness, and salinity that I tasted in those Mozia wines.  Angela Galia, the owner of the Trapani-based company, VeroVini, told us that her wine was made from grapes harvested in her vineyard in the Spagnola contrada. Eureka!

Angela explained what “Ariddhru” meant. It is what the locals call "Grillo".  Later my research showed that “Arridu” or “Riddu” is how the word is commonly spelled in Sicilian. “Ariddhru” is either an alternative spelling or phonetically approximates how it is pronounced. The word is likely connected to “Ariddaru” which in different areas of Sicily identifies various fruits including pears, apples, quinces, plums and lemons.  The word seems to be connected to the shapes of these fruits or their seeds. Seen in this light, the Italian name for the Grillo variety is unfortunate, because Grillo in Italian also means "cricket", an insect with no apparent connection to the vine variety.  Let’s Riddu the name!

I hope we will see more contrada-identified examples of Grillo, and, for that matter, of other Sicilian varieties.  Instead of aiming at pleasing a common-denominator palate, contrada wines will elucidate places through the medium of grape variety and the hand of man.  They will provide us with a library of unique flavors that better express the complexity of Sicily.

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