Taste Sunny Southern Italy: Arancio Grillo Wine

italyIn Italy, wine is life. Period.

Wine is part of every meal, and every meal in Italy is a special occasion. Italians live to eat, not eat to live, and wine is as much a “food” as pasta.

So in every region of the country, from cool Friuli in the shadow of the Alps to balmy Sicily basking on the Mediterranean, the locals make their own wine from the grapes that grow in their neighborhood. If Italians aren’t drinking what they’ve made themselves, they’re buying it by the jug, poured from a barrel in the wine shop in the local market.

Sounds like wine heaven, doesn’t it?

Back here in the United States, most of us eat to live, and consume a ridiculous percentage of our meals behind the wheel of our car, rushing from one Must Do to another Have To Go To. When we drink Italian wines, we usually stick to two varieties:

- Chianti for a red (served up in the straw basket that later passes as a candle holder for every generation of poor college students);

- and Pinot Grigio for a white, which too often tastes like lemon water.

So I was thrilled recently to introduce a very different Italian wine to my customers: one from Sicily, in the “boot” of Southern Italy. Sicily has a very different climate from central and northern Italy, where Chianti and Pinot Grigio are produced. Sicily is much warmer year-round, with loads of sunshine to ripen the wine grapes. The indigenous varieties, of which there are several, make softer, plusher wines than their Northern Italian cousins.

The winery we were exploring is Fuedo Arancio, which I’d read about in several wine magazines, usually in the “Best Buy” or “Great Value” section. We tried a white called Grillo and a red called Nero d’Avola.

The Arancio Grillo 2009 is made from an indigenous grape (that’s the “Grillo”), which is better known as one of the grapes used to make Marsala, Sicily’s most famous wine export. When it’s used to make this table white, Grillo has a pleasant fruit and floral nose. The palate is a very pleasant surprise: there’s soft fruit and a crisp finish, and the whole thing tastes like a cross between a Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc. And that’s a good thing. It means it’s fairly light on acid (not palate-ripping like a lot of Southern Hemisphere Sauv Blancs), and shows pear/melon/tropical fruit with no oak influence at all. At only $10, I’d agree that it’s a great value.

Arancio Nero d’Avola 2009 is made from the grape that’s the flagship of Sicily. Thriving in Sicily’s hot, arid climate, Nero d’Avola is a lot closer in style to Shiraz than Italian Chianti, showing plum-my fruit, hints of pepper and a mellow finish. We tasted it with cheese and pizza, and it’s still a good food wine.

Do yourself a favor and “go Italian” for a night or two. Cook simple but good food from scratch, open a bottle or two (or three), and sit down at the table with family or friends. Linger over your meal, and talk, sip and laugh. I guarantee you’ll feel stress fall away, and you’ll leave the table a happier person. Ciao!

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