Posted by: tomciocco | July 16, 2010


It will come as no surprise that Sicily has an ancient wine tradition, and perhaps even the oldest in the western Mediterranean. In fact the Greeks had such success with raising vines on the island, that as early as the 7th century B.C. they were calling the place Enotria – the land of vines.

Here in the 21st century, Sicily’s premier red grape, Nero d’Avola, and to a lesser extent, the strapping reds made from Nerello Cappuccio and Nerello Mascalese around Mount Etna are the grape names that make the headlines, and deservedly so. But one time, Sicily’s grand wine was not a dry, reductively-made red, but rather the exact opposite – an oxidized, sweet, white, namely Marsala.

Excepting only the efforts of a few top quality producers, Marsala’s fortunes have fallen to the status of cooking wine, and it’s a damned shame, but that’s another story…The reason I’m talking about Marsala at all is because Marsala’s most important, and likely Sicily’s noblest white grape is Grillo (GREE-low), and that what we drank tonight…

Though Grillo’s organoleptic characteristics are almost nothing like the Burgundian/Californian juice giant that is Chardonnay, Grillo is every bit as muscular, structured, and complex, and on the right day I might tell you even more so. This is the kind of white that if served at room temperature to a blindfolded drinker could be mistaken for a red wine due to its intensity, weight, and almost tannic structure.

So this pure Grillo went down with penne sauced with an assembly of boiled green cauliflower, extra virgin, pine nuts, white raisins, breadcrumbs, red pepper flakes, and lots of garlic. The second – an Italian-American classic – Chicken Francese – lightly egg battered pounded chicken cutlets, browned in butter and olive oil, removed, pan deglazed with a combination of stock, white wine and lemon juice.  Add lots of finely chopped parsley, return the cutlets to the pan to coat well with the sauce and plate it. I braised some sliced carrots for the contorno.











Firriato Altavilla della Corte Grillo 2008

Bright, pale golden color. Exotic nose of peach skin, pineapple juice, frankincense, walnut, and hay. The body is big and muscular, and the flavors on the palate are clean and strong: apricot, seawater, “powdery” floral tastes and a bracing bitter marzipan finish. A  remakably sophisticated and complex wine for the price.



  1. It’s the bitter almond and fuzzy stone fruit character that make Grillo so easy to pair with both sweet and savory elements. Is there a condiment used in Southern Italian cuisine that combines those flavors? I know that they used mustard and quince based cold sauces in the North.

    • Hey Dave

      Sorry for the delay with the response – Jen and I just got back from Montreal this afternoon.

      To my knowledge, there’s no Sicilian sweet/sour/savory condiment like mostarda di Cremona, for example, but the Sicilian kitchen has more than a few dishes that apply the same principles with combinations like raisins and capers or olives and oranges; a big Grillo would indeed do justice to most of them.

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