Nero d'Avola is Sicily's most
popular red grape, used in the region's bestselling varietal wine. Until
the 1980s, commercial use of Nero d'Avola was dedicated almost exclusively
to fortifying weaker reds in France and northern Italy. In the past Nero
d'Avola, like other Sicilian reds, was often syrupy, with an alcohol content
reaching eighteen percent --too strong as table wines. The name, which literally
means "Avola Black," is a good description.
New viticulture techniques and night harvesting --placing the grapes
in in cooled vats to present premature fermentation-- have been used by
a few vintners to retain flavor without producing an overpowering wine.
The result is often compared to Syrah, another popular red.
Boasting a singular climate, Sicily is blessed with consistent growing
seasons from year to year, typified by lots of warm sunshine and very little
rain. Vintage quality varies, of course, but not as much as it does in Burgundy
Dozens of wineries, including many that are little more than part-time
vintners bottling the results of private harvests, sell Nero d'Avola, much
of it unexceptional. We tasted a few of the better ones. Here are some observations
about the "pure" Nero d'Avolas we sampled at a recent blind tasting.
Prices are Italian retail.
Duca Enrico by Duca di Salaparuta (2003). Slightly fruity but
full-bodied. Exceptional entry from a winery noted for mid-priced wines.
Santa Cecilia by Planeta (2002). One of the better ones, striking
a good balance between body and flavor. Probably ages well. An impressive
Zonin Nero d'Avola (2002). Good entry from one of the wineries
responsible for developing the Sicilian varietal industry. However, it lacks
the body one expects from a robust red. For this reason, some people may
prefer it while others will be disappointed. €12.00.
Torre dei Venti by Fazio (2002). Fresh notes in a wine produced
from grapes raised in the Erice-Segesta area. €20.00.
Rallo Nero d'Avola (2002). The black plastic cork is not a good
idea. Berry overtures and a slightly fizzy texture. One might expect something
more from this company known for its fine Marsala. €7.00.
Francesco Nicosia Nero d'Avola 2003. Surprisingly good for an
inexpensive wine. Grapes are from the Etna region, Nicosia having been in
business for over a century. €5.00.
Maria Costanza by Milazzo (2003). An excellent mid-priced wine
that more than "holds its own" with more expensive labels. Impressive
body and flavor. €13.00.
Nero d'Avola is one of those reds that you either love or hate. It's
not pretentious. It can only be itself, and it can overpower, as well as
complement, mild cuisine. It seems made to accompany lamb, venison and stronger
beef dishes --things like a thick Texan steak with wild mushrooms.
Nowadays, with culinary rules cast aside, there's really no entrenched
wisdom, but our conservative opinion is that Nero d'Avola is destined to
be appreciated by wine lovers in search of a "real" red with about
a thirteen percent alcohol content.
This is one of those wines that would lose its luster if it were made
from grapes grown anywhere but Sicily, with its unique soil. One doubts
whether any other region could compare. It's the epitome of Sicilian flavor.
For more information on Sicilian wines:
Sicilian Food and Wine
Sicily's Wine Renaissance
Sicilian Wine Country
About the Author: Roberta Gangi has written
numerous articles and one book dealing with Italian cultural and culinary
history, and several food and wine articles for Best of Sicily Magazine.