Posts tagged ‘grillo’

Marvelous Marsala from Florio

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Of all the celebrated wines in Italy that do not receive the recognition they deserve, perhaps no wine is as given little attention today as Marsala. This is a shame – un gran peccato as they say in Italy, as Marsala was the most famous wine from Sicily for hundreds of years; today, it is still important, but as producers on this island focus more on table wines today, a lightly sweet fortified wine such as Marsala seems to be considered a thing of the past. Un gran peccato, veramente as a top-flight Marsala that has been aged for many years at the winery can truly be one of the world’s great wines.

Marsala is a fortified wine produced in far western Sicily near Trapani; salt is a major product of this area as well and certainly one of the postcard images of this zone are the windmills that stand sentinel over the salt pans. The often torrid conditions here, somewhat tempered by breezes from the nearby sea, are ideal for ripening white grapes that are the source of a wine that reaches 18% to 19% alcohol. The primary grape used is Grillo, which tends to perform well in the heat; Cataratto grapes are also used in some blends, but clearly Grillo is the base of the finest examples.

I recently sampled five different examples of Marsala from Cantine Florio, a company founded in 1833, that is one of Marsala’s – and Sicily’s – most historic cellars. Today Florio is part of the giant company ILLVA Saranno Holding spa, which also includes Duca Enrico and Corvo wines from other areas of Sicily. Clearly the funding from this company has kept Florio a thriving wine estate, today producing some 3.5 million bottles of wine per year. But it has also remained a traditional Marsala producer, making several different versions, from the simple to the sublime.

Here are thoughts on the five different offerings of Florio Marsala I tasted:

2009 Marsala Superiore Secco “Vecchioflorio” - When you mention Marsala to Americans, most of them have an image of a cooking wine; this bottle is probably what they have in mind. A blend of Grillo and Cataratto aged for 30 months in Slavonian oak (the typical large barrels used in Marsala and many other Italian wine zones), this has a light amber color with aromas of caramel, molasses and hints of Scotch whisky. This is clean and well made with a light sweetness and should be consumed over the next six to ten months.

2001 Marsala Superiore Riserva Semisecco “Targa Riserva 1840″ – 100% Grillo aged for six years in Slavonian oak. Light amber with aromas of caramel and hints of butterscotch. Medium-bodied with an off-dry finish of good length. Nicely balanced – best consumed over the next 12-18 months.

2000 Marsala Vergine “Terre Arse” – 100% Grillo aged for more than ten years in Slavonian oak (the term vergine refers to a Marsala that has been aged at least five years in oak). Light amber with aromas of heather, caramel and hazelnut. Medium-full with very good persistence and a lengthy finish with a light hint of sweetness. Good balancing acidity keeps this wine delicate in the mouth. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years.

1998 Marsala Vergine “Florio Baglio” - 100% Grillo aged for ten years in old 300 liter casks. Lovely caramel, honey and heather aromas. Medium-full with very good concentration. Rich, dry finish with excellent persistence, very good acidity and a light nuttiness. Beautifully made – enjoy over the next 5-7 years. Excellent

Marsala Superiore Riserva “Donnafranca” – Dedicated to Franca Icona di San Giuliano, known as Donnafranca, the queen of Palermo. 100% Grillo aged for more than fifteen years in 300 liter botti. Deep amber with intoxicating aromas of caramel, hazelnut, chocolate, orange peel and marzipan. Medium-full with excellent concentration, this coats the palate and glides to a lengthy, graceful finish with delicate sweetness, outstanding persistence and impressive complexity. So rich and yet so elegantly styled. Enjoy now and over the next 10-12 years – perhaps longer. Outstanding

This collection of various examples of Marsala was a real eye-opener for me, given the quality and various styles. A few of these reminded me of lovely older sherries or Vin Santo and as those wines are celebrated and noted in the international press, one wonders why Marsala is not given similar treatment. Perhaps it is the image of Marsala being something that was enjoyed last century; I imagine for some people, Marsala is not relevant. This is a shame, as the wines are magnificent!

Florio also produces other classic dessert wines of Sicily including Passito di Pantelleria and Malvasia delle Lipari, which I will review in a future post.

May 9, 2012 at 5:50 pm 6 comments

Italian Varieties – D to L


Greco vineyards below the town of Montemiletto, Campania (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Greco vineyards below the town of Montemiletto, Campania (Photo ©Tom Hyland)




A red variety grown in Piemonte that literally means, “little sweet one.” Light tannins, balanced acidity and juicy fruit flavors of raspberry, mulberry and cranberry. Dolcetto produces a wine that is very charming and easy to drink in its youth.



White variety grown in north central Piemonte; the most famous example is Erbaluce di Caluso. High acidity and lemon fruit; versions range from a light dry white to a refreshing sparkling style.



Beautiful white variety of Campania, grown in various areas of that region. Very high acidity and fruit flavors ranging from apple and pear in the most simple bottlings to quince and kiwi in the best offerings. Generally not oak-aged, though a few producers do barrel age the wine.



Falanghina vineyard in Campania (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Falanghina vineyard in Campania (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


White variety grown along the coast of Campania; very high acidity and flavors of citrus and pear. Usually part of a blend, along with varieties such as Biancolella and Ginestra.


Another beautiful white variety, most famously grown in Campania, though a few producers in Sicily work with it as well. Medium-full to full-bodied, this has fruit flavors of pear and citrus along with distinct notes of honey. Some versions are meant for consumption within 2-3 years, while the most concentrated offerings from the best producers can drink well for 5-7 years, thanks in part to the grape’s excellent natural acidity.


A red variety used in the production of Cerasuolo di Vittoria in Sicily. Cherry, berry fruit and very soft tannins. There are a few producers that bottle Frappato on its own.


Formerly known as Tocai Friulano, the name was changed to avoid confusion with the Hungarian wine Tokay (this was also done in accordance with European Community regulations concerning protected names of wines). One of Friuli’s great white varieties, with complex aromas of pear, apricot and dried flowers. Lively acidity and a light minerality.




Red variety of Calabria that is the principal grape of Ciro rosso. Raspberry and strawberry fruit with light tannins.


The primary grape of Soave. An underrated white variety with aromas of yellow flowers and melon with very good acidity. This grape is as misprounced as any – the correct pronunciation is gar-gan-ah-guh.


One of Italy’s great white varieties, grown primarily in Alto Adige. Gewurz means “spicy” in German – this then is the spicy Traminer. Gorgeous aromatics of grapefruit, lychee and rose petals with lively acidity and distinct notes of white spice. The best versions are quite rich, with some having an oiliness on the palate.


White variety grown along the coasts of Campania- especially in the Costa d’Amalfi DOC. High acidity and fruit flavors of pear and lemon. Usually part of a blended white of the area.


One of the major white varieties of Campania; flavors of lemon, pear and dried flowers with very good natural acidity and often a note of almond. Medium-full, this generally is not as full as Fiano, but is quite complex. Most famous example is Greco di Tufo, from the province of Avellino.


Beautiful red variety from Piemonte; almost no tannins, with refreshing cherry and strawberry fruit and very good natural acidity. Meant for consumption within 2-3 years of the vintage date.


White variety from Sicily; most versions are simple with pleasant acidity and flavors of pear and citrus. Grillo is produced both as a stand-alone variety and also as part of a blended white.



Red variety of Marche; most famously as Lacrima di Morro d’Alba. Medium-bodied with cherry, berry fruit, moderate tannins and good acidity. Produced both as a refreshing style for early consumption and a fuller style with more tannins and longevity. 


One of Alto Adige’s most wonderful red varieties with intense color (often deep purple), youthful, but not overly aggressive tannins and very good acidity. Fruit flavors of black plum, black cherry and raspberry. Fruit forward and despite its richness, often quite approachable upon release.


Red variety most famously grown in Emilia-Romagna. Produces a lighter red wth cherry-berry fruit, zippy acidity and very light tannins. Best known in its slightly sparkling (frizzante) offerings.

August 11, 2009 at 10:17 am Leave a comment

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