Catarratto is an indigenous Italian white wine grape planted primarily on the island of Sicily. Where it is the most widely planted varietal and the second most widely grown grape varietal in Italy. The grape varietal actually makes up 60% of the total grape vineyard area in Sicily - with nearly all concentrated on the western side of the island. In fact, Sicily has more hectares devoted to the vine than any other region of Italy with over 133,546ha planted.
Exactly how the grape got to Sicily is a still a mystery as recent DNA testing has shown that it is an offspring of the Garganega grape, which is primarily cultivated on the northern part of the Italian mainland in the Veneto region. Catarratto has been given DOC designation in the areas of Alcamo, Marsala, Monreale and a few other wine areas.
Catarratto exists in different phenotypes - Catarratto Bianco Comune and Catarratto Bianco Lucido. The distinction between the two was first described by the Ampelographic Commission of Palermo back in 1883, which gave them their names.
They are distinguished from one another by the presence or absence of a white bloom on the skin of the grapes as they mature. Comune has the most whitish colour present while Lucido has less, creating a clearer, glossy appearance to the grape skin. Another sub-variety known as Extra-Lucido was discovered and isolated in 1971 from some Lucido vines and it has virtually no bloom on the grape skins. This was also shown to be genetically identical with the other two, as was assumed by its origin.
They are all registered as different grape varietals in Italy, but recent DNA testing has shown them to be identical. Thus, the phenotypes have resulted from massal selection of vines showing intra-varietal variability of vines having been propagated by cuttings from the same original seedling.
An Italian study published in 2008 using DNA testing - which showed the three Catarrattos to be identical, also showed a close genetic relationship between Garganega on the one hand and Catarratto and several other grape varietals on the other. It is therefore possible that Garganega is one of the parents of Catarratto, however, since the parents of Garganega have not been identified, the exact nature of the relationship has not been conclusively established. The Garganega grape is the most popular grape variety in the northeast Italy.
Catarratto is also known by several other names such as Bianco Latino and Catarratto Bertolaro to name just a few. Catarratto is predominately used as a blending grape - usually with varietals such as Grillo, Garganega, Carricante, Minella Bianca, Inzolia and Chardonnay. Catarratto is a low-maintenance varietal with high yields, which is ideal for grape-growers whose main concern, is selling their juice for bulk wine production. Catarratto is also important in the production of Marsala, and Catarratto's high yields, fairly neutral character and tendency to oxidize easily are all perfect for this style of wine.
Catarratto can produce full flavoured wines with layered citrus characters. Because of characteristics, Catarratto wine is best paired with seafood dishes with green vegetables, and even chicken. It pairs very well with seared tuna salad and capers, which is locally referred to as ‘Insalata di tonno e capperi’. Catarratto also pairs well with snapper or salmon sashimi and other seafood dishes. Indeed, the flexibility and durability of the Catarratto grape varietal and resulting wines - is what makes it the second famous grape varietal in Sicily and Italy.