Grillo (also known as Riddu) is a white grape variety from Sicily - used to produce some of the best Marsala wines. Grillo is a variety so ancient that it was used in a famous Roman wine - a favourite of Julius Caesar, the sweet, luscious Mamertino of Messina.
The grape is grown on bush-trained vines - which can withstand high temperatures and dry conditions, which Sicily has in abundance and is widely used in Sicilian wine-making. The grape is capable of reaching fairly high sugar levels when ripe, which was a major benefit when it was the primary grape used in the production of Marsala. Grillo can also produce a bold, full-bodied wine that is often blended with the more aromatic Inzolia grape and more recently Chardonnay. Grillo has declined along with Marsala and has been mostly replaced by the more vigorous Catarratto, Sicily’s most popular white wine variety.
The low point for Grillo came in the early 1990's when acreage devoted to the grape fell to 2,300 hectares of planted vines, or around 3% of the white grapes planted in Sicily. Plantings have rebounded lately as the popularity of dry white table wines has increased over the past twenty years or so, and growers and consumers have found that Grillo can make interesting, characterful table wines. Grillo can produce charming, modern and hearty full, flavoured wines of quality, despite lacking the intense and distinctive aromas of other white grapes that have spurred recent winemaker interest, like Inzolia.
Although this grape has had a long association with Marsala, in recent years it has become widely used in such DOC wines as; Monreale (province of Palermo) - Alcamo (provinces of Palermo and Trapani) - Contea di Sclafani (provinces of Agrigento and Palermo) - Delia Nivolelli (province of Trapani). 100% Grillo IGT wines are also produced, although blending with for example Chardonnay is also common. Grillo wines pair well with seafood, grilled vegetables and salads, so the next time you're at your having a light summer meal - ask for Grillo and have a taste of Sicilian sunshine.