Sicily’s strategic location in the center of the Mediterranean Sea has attracted countless cultures, merchants, and conquerors to its shores. The Greeks, Phoenicians, Arabs, and Italians all staked their claim to the island throughout history. Sicily has produced wine since 4,000 B.C. Although, the modern winemaking and viticulture techniques of the Greeks pushed Sicilian wines onto the world stage in ancient times. Diverse wine offerings and numerous native grapes are the result of Sicily’s rich cultural history. Just glimpsing at the varieties and styles included in the Sicilia D.O.C. proves as much. Catarratto is one of Sicily’s most ancient varieties. This grape claims around 33 percent of all vineyard plantings on the island.
Catarratto – About the Variety
The vineyards of the Palermo, Agrigento, and Trapani provinces have the highest concentrations of Catarratto. However, this variety is planted throughout Sicily. If you’ve ever tasted an Etna Bianco D.O.C., perhaps you have tasted Catarratto before. This is one of the numerous varieties that plays a supporting role in the blend for the Etna Bianco and Etna Bianco Superiore D.O.C.’s. Moreover, Marsala Oro, Marsala Ambra, and Marsala Rubino within the Marsala D.O.C. all include Catarratto in varying proportions. In this designation, only Marsala Oro and Marsala Ambra offer the possibility for a single varietal Marsala from Catarratto. Other Sicilian designations, such as the Menfi, Sicilia, Alcamo, and Santa Margherita di Belice D.O.C.’s, also often use Catarratto as the primary variety in a wine.
Catarratto is Grillo’s parent variety through a natural crossing with Zibibbo, another Italian variety that is fun to pronounce. A research study from 2008 illustrated that Catarratto shares at least one allele with Garganega, an ancient northern Italian variety considered to be crucial in the evolution of Italian Vitis Vinifera varieties. Research has also shown that eight or more phenotypes of Catarratto currently exist. Though the three commonly recognized clones include Catarratto Commune, Catarratto Lucido, and Catarratto Extra Lucido.
Catarratto Lucido and Catarratto Extra Lucido are named for their unusually shiny skin. Lucido means glossy, polished, or shining in Italian. According to Vitis – Journal of Grapevine Research, “the three typologies are somatic mutants derived from the vegetative propagation from the same original seedling.” Throughout the 20th century, these clones developed amongst Sicily’s various microclimates.
New Age Catarratto
In recent years winemakers have been taking a new approach to winemaking with this variety. Young winemakers are experimenting with Catarratto, using techniques like extended skin maceration (or making an orange wine) or apassimento – drying the grapes out prior to fermentation.
Catarratto in the Vineyard
Catarratto is a vigorous variety that requires thorough training and pruning in the vineyard to yield quality fruit. The variety has a good resistance to most common grape diseases. The grape bunches vary in compactness, are medium to large size, and conical in shape, potentially with two wings. Catarratto can thrive in both the hills and the plains of Sicily. Bud break typically kicks off Catarratto’s growing season in early April. The grapes are mature and typically ready for harvest in early to mid-September.
In Forbes, Firriato Wines COO Federico Lombardo di Monte Iato said that Sicily is home to seven of the twelve orders of soil in the world. Considering that Catarratto is planted throughout the numerous appellations in Sicily, the variety is quite adaptable to many soil types and microclimates. Here, I will cover what can be expected from the regions with the highest concentrations of Catarratto.
The vineyards of Palermo range from 500 – 2,400 feet above sea level. The region encompasses both the Madonie mountain range along with the hills and plateaus of the island’s interior. Spanning almost half of Sicily’s northwestern coastline, this region soaks up ample sunlight tempered by the cooling maritime influence of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Soils in Palermo are mostly sandy and rocky with windblown silt.
Located along the southwestern coastline of Sicily, the Mediterranean Sea moderates the dry and warm land of Agrigento. Vineyards closer to the sea produce refreshing wines characterized by sapidity. The soils of this region are composed of limestone, clay, silt, and ancient marine fossils.
The Province of Trapani sits on the westernmost tip of Sicily and is one of the island’s most planted regions. In this corner of the Sicily, you’ll find moderate temperatures and a high number of sunny days. Vineyards in the north experience a more moderate climate and higher eastern elevations. Whereas vineyards in the south of Trapani are in for warm, dry summers. Soils of the region include sandy loam and rocky soil with calcareous clay. The varying terrains and microclimates offer a range of diverse wines from this zone of Sicily.
Azienda Agricola Cortese, Catarratto Lucido, Terre Siciliane I.G.T. 2018
Azienda Agricola Cortese is an organic Sicilian winery embracing biodiversity and traditional, minimal-intervention winemaking techniques. Cortese believes in creating a flourishing ecosystem for their vineyards, the results of which are alive in their wine. Their Nostru series pays homage to the rich Sicilian culture with colorful graphics on every label. The Catarratto Lucido label depicts a colorful donkey as an homage to Sicilian viticultural tradition.
- Brilliant, pale straw yellow with green reflections.
- An enticing and intoxicating nose with medium pronounced aromas of citrus blossoms in the spring, sweet mandarin orange, tropical juicy grapefruit, sweet vanilla, and salinity.
- Energetic and beautiful aromatics – like a spritz of citrus by the sea, a fragrance you want to wear for summer.
- The palate is racy and tantalizing with mouthwatering acidity and medium body.
- For how citrus and floral forward this wine is on the nose, the palate is distinctly savory in the most delicious way.
Catarratto is the ideal wine for any seafood dish you could possibly want eat it while on a summer holiday in the Mediterranean. If you want to eat it while in a bikini with saltwater curling your hair and sunshine warming your face, then it’s likely a great pairing. Fresh calamari or fish hot off the grill with just a spritz of lemon. Fresh oysters with a simple shallot mignonette sauce. Grilled vegetables with chimichurri. Fried snow crab sliders doused in spicy mayo, lime, and slaw. Honestly, even chips and guacamole would be ideal.
Let me know if you get your hands on a bottle of Catarratto, how you like it, and what you pair with this fabulous wine. Cheers!
Crespan, Manna & Calò, A & Giannetto, S & Sparacio, A & Storchi, Paolo & Costacurta, A. (2008). ‘Sangiovese’ and ‘Garganega’ are two key varieties of the Italian grapevine assortment evolution. Vitis – Journal of Grapevine Research. 47.