panorama  › Wine 24

Nino Barraco’s sparkling Grillo: a one-only unexpected Sicilian beauty

by Claudio Celio

You occasionally chance upon wines you don’t expect: unimaginable, off the scale; extraordinarily enjoyable, as only certain wines can be when they are out of context. It happened to me one evening, not long ago, in the course of a champagne and sparkling wine tasting. There was a series of very appealing items and in the midst of these, wham! An off-the-scale wine, one I couldn’t stop lingering over and losing myself into, one that made any attempt at sensory analysis superfluous.

A wine made up of many elements that, together, form a balanced ensemble of superior harmony: as if the wine as a whole were more than the sum of individual parts. To my amazement, I discovered it was a Sicilian champenois – metodo classico – from Grillo grapes, crafted by a humble and talented grower called Antonino “Nino” Barraco.

Nino Barraco produces some 35,000 bottles a year from his vineyards near Marsala, Sicily, where he cultivates such native varieties as Grillo, Catarratto, Zibibbo and Nero d’Avola. He markets several labels, each of which aims to express its territory. “What we have in mind is not a ‘perfect’ wine, but one that’s recognizable for its personality, where the dissonant notes play a strong role in characterizing the wine itself. In order to reach this objective, we carefully avoid the sort of homogenization that comes with technical tampering, and rely on the complexity and inconstancy of nature.”

This being the winery’s manifesto, vineyard management follows the principles of organic agriculture, which rules out any recourse to chemicals, and winery management painstakingly steers away from anything that would force nature: thus, spontaneous fermentation, no temperature control during vinification and no clarifying or filtering before bottling.

The winery’s champenois sparkling wine follows these same rules. The harvest, in 2011, was early, and the Grillo grapes were vinified in stainless steel, without maceration.

Refermentation in the bottle began in February 2012, using cane sugar and vat sediments that triggered indigenous yeasts. Dégorgement took place in September 2016 and the bottles were topped up with the same wine, without the addition of sulfites.

The result is a wine that throws you a curve ball, with a bouquet that fluctuates from iodized nuances to toasted corn. Rich and intense on the palate, it never slips into self-centered or superficial virtuosity, also thanks to a hint of savory freshness that pervades the palate and lingers, sinuous and deep, lasting long after the tasting experience is over. “This is a wine that enabled me to explore uncharted territory in the terroir and the grape, and their untapped potential,” says the grower.

This splendid metodo classico only has one defect: it will stand alone in Nino Barraco’s production, for Antonino has chosen to focus all his energies on his Marsala.