This week, we are venturing back to last week’s mention of Marsala wine and the white grape Grillo. Grillo, just like Catarratto, is from the island of Sicily. It is thought the grape may have originated in the region of Puglia, the heel of the boot, but this claim has not been substantiated. While there is a citation about the grape that dates back to 1873, when a list of the grapes grown in the Trapani region of Sicily was released in 1886, this grape was excluded. Around this time, phylloxera began to have a significant impact on the vines of the region. Upon the replanting at the end of the phylloxera infestation, Grillo saw a sharp increase in its amount of land under vine and replaced Catarratto in many areas of Trapani. Trapani is on the western end of Sicily, to the west of the capital city Palermo, and where the town of Marsala is located. Over recent years, propagation of Grillo has spread a bit around the island with notable plantings in the Agrigento region (located centrally on the south side of the island), and to a lesser extent in Palermo, Caltanissetta, and Siracusa. It also can still be found back in Puglia, where it is commonly used in the production of blends at the classification level of IGT (indicazione geografica tipica).
The bottle I selected to drink this week was a 2020 Grillo from Casale Burgio, which comes from the Sicilia DOC. The DOC means this is a grape allowed by law (one of six grapes) to be propagated within the defined geographic region of Sicilia (which includes the entire island) and it meets the legal requirements for growing and winemaking. On the side of the bottle, there is a logo that states this bottle is made from organic grapes. While many people seek out organic or natural wines, it is important to understand what these designations mean. The indicator on this bottle really means nothing to me as this region, along with many others around the world, have never made it a practice to use chemical treatments in the vineyard. Some climates, such as Bordeaux or the Loire Valley, where the climate is more maritime, limited amounts of copper solution may be needed to control mildew that can infect the vineyard and destroy yields. If ensuring the grapes used to produce the wines you drink are chemical free is important to you, understanding the climate and topography can save you a significant amount of money when purchasing bottles. In order to make claims of being organic or biodynamic, wineries must pay substantial fees to obtain these certifications. Doing a little research or getting to know who produces the grapes and the winemaker that transforms them, can give you a good idea of how well their ideals align with your own. This allows you to purchase bottles that may not have the logo but you understand why it may not be necessary. It also allows them to save the money of having the extra designation. This is when going to your local wine shop (not the big box stores!) or going tasting in wine country can really come in handy. Another part of the organic label is understanding how the certification varies throughout the world. This bottle also states it contains sulfites. In order to be organic within the US, sulfur dioxide (SO2) can not be added to the product. This is not the case in the EU. I’m sure you’ve heard the buzzword, ‘sulfites’, but many do not understand the role SO2 plays in wine production. It is antibacterial, preventing bacterial spoilage in wines as well as keeping equipment clean in the cellar. The density of SO2 is greater than oxygen, so it provides a protective layer over wine, thus preventing oxidation. It also binds to anthocyanins (the color compounds in red wine), and prevents them from falling out of solution. This allows the wine to retain its color longer, which is essential as color is a deciding factor many use when purchasing wine. It is also important to remember where else sulfites exist. Sulfites are commonly found in dried fruits, vinegars, cheeses, french fries, and soda, just to name a few. If you look into it, you will also see the number of over 100ppm for wine. This is based on the maximum allowable amount of 350ppm in the US. Most wines are nowhere close to this amount because winemakers use the least amount possible to accomplish their goals. The factors that force winemakers to use more are higher pH (lower acid) or higher sugar content. These also allow for secondary fermentation or bacterial growth, which the SO2 is added to prevent. Mass produced wines will also have more added than wines from smaller producers. If you are seeking a bottle of natural wine, while this is not an official designation, many do not contain any added sulfites (if they do, they are extremely limited). It may not be the best idea to attempt to age these bottles in your cellar as lacking SO2 can limit the wine’s shelf life. It is also important to know that sulfites are a natural byproduct of the fermentation process, meaning all wine contains some level. By this same token, even beer contains some sulfites.
Now that we know what those fancy words on the label mean, let me tell you about the wine in that bottle. The Grillo was a light straw color with flecks of green and thin legs. It wasn’t the most aromatic wine but I could detect the floral scent of jasmine, along with green apple, pear, pineapple juice out of a can, and white peaches. The dry wine was easy drinking with a slightly less than moderate level of acid and a medium level of alcohol. The aromas carried over onto the palate with the addition of honeydew melon. The flavors dissipated quickly, making it even easier to drink on a nice spring or summer afternoon with a caesar salad, grilled white fish or cheese plate. It was slightly more complex than many Pinot Grigio wines, so if that is what you enjoy, this would be worth trying. I had a busy week of tasting wine last week, so this week I jumped from #184 to #191!