The Best Italian White You're Not Drinking
By Megan Hereford
Grillo is the white Italian varietal that you may not have heard of, but should be drinking. It was once widely used in Sicily in the making of Marsala wine until it fell out of favor for more vigorous varietals, and it wasn’t until 1990 that the vinification of Grillo as a dry white wine became popular. The grape itself is having a bit of a comeback now, being used to produce more single varietal wine for export as the rest of the world catches on to this elegant, savory white wine.
Everything about this wine speaks to me this time of year, even the literal translation of the word Grillo (it means “cricket” in Italian) and the name Cavallo della Fate which translates to “the fairies horse”. It is all rather whimsical and reminiscent of stories told by the fireside, as the cricket was the horse of the fairy in old Sicilian fairy tales. Cavallo della Fate Grillo is the choice that will elegantly pair with fading heat, shortening days, and those infernal crickets that are constantly trying to take shelter in your home before winter.
The Regaleali estate that produces Cavallo della Fate is located in the heart of Sicily, atypical from the traditional coastal Sicilian vineyards. Here in central Sicily, you will find beautiful rolling hills covered in acres of vineyard, interplanted with olive groves and wheat fields and dotted with sheep. At the heart of the island vines are protected by mountains from maritime influence and experience colder winters and dryer summers with very cool nights, growing in deep and slightly calcareous clay soils; both important factors in producing this wine’s zesty acidity and refreshing minerality.
Grillo is typically stainless steel fermented and then aged “sur lees”, this one spends 4 months on the lees before bottling. The richness on the palate is developed in this important step, and is a beautiful compliment to the high acid and bright citrus and apricot aromas found in the Cavallo della Fate. All of this is underpinned by a savoriness typical to the varietal with aromas and flavors of thyme that lead to pairing well with roasted fall vegetables. It has a lasting finish with notes of pineapple as the wine slowly fades away on your palate, like the dog days of summer.