Once upon a time, when Marsala was MARSALA!, and not just a component in the creation of the eponymously named chicken dish (good Marsala should STILL be in everyone’s fortified wine rotation, but that’s another post…) a big, characterful grape called Grillo (prononced GREE-LO, NOT GREE-YO) – our subject – was the most important and noblest grape variety used in producing Marsala. Two other grape varieties called Inzolia and Catarrato completed the traditional Marsala trio…or maybe it’s a troika…triumverate?
But as is the way with most fussy, low yielding varieties like Grillo, over time, growers began to gravitate toward Inzolia, which is more cooperative in the vineyard, and more effusively scented than Grillo, and to Catarrato, which is even easier to raise than Inzolia, but far less interesting than either of the other two. As the levels of Inzolia and Catarrato in Marsala rose, the fortunes of Marsala fell. Sadly, but for a few spectacular examples made by folks like Marco De Bartoli’s , Marsala has taken it’s place right between the Ripple and the Blackberry Schnapps. Damned shame too…but just a single sip of a good Marsala will give you a clear understanding why Marsala was once considered a “wine of kings”.
But enough about intentionally oxidized, fortified wines like Marsala. Firriato’s Grillo Altavilla della Corte is a regular, old dry white wine…ah, bad choice of words…this wine is anything but an old or regular drink to be sure…For my ducats, Grillo produces THE most full-bodied, structured white wines this side of the scylla and charybdis- so much so that if served warm to a blindfolded imbiber, it could easily be construed to be a red wine – no joke! Grillo has an almost tannic, chewy texture, and an intensity in the mouth unmatched by any other white wine that I know of – not Chardonnay, not Chenin Blanc, not Fiano – nothing! you hear? NOTHING!;-)
I served this wine with an improvised batch of farfalle sauced with ricotta, pancetta, peas and roasted red peppers and a couple of pan-fried tranches of wolf fish (which is a salt water catfish species) and some braised carrots. The pasta dish was no push over flavor-wise; pancetta and roasted peppers are BIG flavors that might call for a light red, but this muscle-bound charmer handled it and the strongly-flavored fish with aplomb.
Firriato Grillo Altavilla della Corte 2006
Deep and shiny golden color. The nose is redolent of ground ginger, toasted hazelnuts, and lemon zest, while the palate hosts very intense, chunky, and warm (but in no way sweet) flavors of pears in syrup and the skins of green fruits. The finish shows itself in almost “bell curve” fashion, intensifying with time before ultimately trailing off with a notably fine and concentrated notes of marzipan.