Rare Wines: Marsala British and Pre-British

Feb 23 2023, 12:05 | by Gambero Rosso
In this episode of Vini Rari we retrace the footsteps of history to get to know two wines with an oxidative style. A (special) Marsala and a wine made from Grillo grapes that do not undergo the fortification process.

It was a dark and stormy evening in 1773, the waves and the wind swept the bridge of the brig threatening to sink it, when the distant lights of the port of Marsala began to shine dimly, John Whoodhouse gave orders to the commander of the Elizabeth to veer immediately towards land to rescue crew and cargo. Thus begins the story of the best-known Sicilian wine, Marsala, in truth at the time it was not called that yet, it was known as Perpetuum due to the production method, it was an oxidative wine made from inzolia and catarratto or perricone grapes in the red version, which was in fact obtained by filling a single barrel every year with a new wine so that the wine obtained also had the characteristics of the previous years.

Legend has it that Woodhouse, after having docked and secured accommodation in a tavern in the port, after tasting the Perpetuum offered to him by the innkeeper, being a good merchant he immediately understood the beverage's economic and quality potential, in fact at the time in England enormous quantities of wines were consumed such as Jerez and Port from Spain and Portugal. The rest is history, Woodhouse began importing Perpetuum to England by adding alcohol to make it "navigable" as said at that time, then he founded his own production factory in Marsala, where he began to produce Marsala with the Soleras method, soon followed by other English like Ingham, Whitaker, Hopps.

Then the Florios and Diego Rallo arrived, thus Marsala was born. However, we had to wait exactly a century for Marsala, which in the meantime had had global success and made all the producers very rich, starting with the Florio, to take on its current organoleptic characteristics. It was 1874 when Baron Antonio Mendola, ampelographer and agronomist, engaged for years in the search for a grape capable of giving more aromatic complexity and structure to Marsala, registered a hybrid of catarratto and zibibbo (moscato d’Alessandria) with the name of moscato Cerletti.

What is now called grillo was thus born and which for a few years after its creation is still now – with inzolia, catarratto and damaschino – part of the grapes with which Marsala can be produced. While the Perpetuum or Perpetuo that a growing number of producers have successfully resumed producing, is reliving a second life, with the Pre-British denomination precisely by virtue of its history.

Grillo: two rare and special wines to get to know


Marsala Vergine Secco Vintage Riserva 1980

VINEYARD | The vineyard dedicated to the Heritage line is located halfway up the hill south of Marsala, a very ventilated area and as the crow flies close enough to the sea to enjoy its beneficial effects especially on hot summer nights. It is a total of ten hectares, two of which are Nero d'Avola, used for Marsala Rubino and eight are grillo for the other different types such as Vergine, Oro, Secco and Semisecco, but also for the Pre-British. The grillo used for Marsala is harvested late, generally after mid-September, to have an alcohol content close to 15 degrees at the start. To produce his Marsalas, Ciccio Intorcia does not use a common mistella, but a blend of various...
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Ziller 47

Tenuta Gorghi Tondi
VINEYARD | Located in the Trapani countryside, Ziller 47 is a project strongly desired by Michele Sala that closes the circle on the versatility of a grape like grillo, capable of expressing itself in all possible types of wine. It is a white, unfortified, aged for 11 years in large barrels, which takes inspiration from the pre-British versions. The name is a tribute to the nickname given by friends to our father, considered as a precise, meticulous and stubborn character. The year is instead of his birth, 1947. PERSONS | A great beauty, a context that takes our breath away in the middle of this family estate acquired at the end of the 19th century, which has long been a...
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selected by Gambero Rosso
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