Nero d’Avola – A great Sicilian Everyday Red Wine
Several years ago I was invited to speak at a conference in Palermo for the industrial development of Sicily. I met an interesting gentlemen who was also presenting at the conference. I was thoroughly intrigued by his business. He made wines. I knew Sicily for many things but had not thought about Sicilian wines. He went on to explain how their group intended to produce and sell Sicilian wines on the world market. They were investing important resources into the Duca di Salaparuta facilities. During my various visits to the island I had tastes many local house wines, just as I had done in every region of Italy. To say that even the most obscure province of Italy does not have a local wine would be just wrong however there are areas that are better known for their tradition of wine.
I was truly fascinated. My curiosity took over and Raffaella and I spent the next couple of days finding out more about Sicilian wines of the group. The best way to learn about a wine is to drink it with a local meal so we sacrificed ourselves in the selfless quest of learning more about Nero d’Avola.
Recently Terry from Mondosapore wrote an article about Nero d’Avola and how it has become popular in the US. His article evidences the personal biases in the Italian wine industry as some distributors and producers degradingly spoke of the popularity of Nero d’Avola. Everyone seems to have an opinion. Italian Wine Guy also wrote about a great and unknown Nero d’Avola that is made in collaboration between the Cantina di Soave and Cantina Sociale Santa Ninfa. He so appropriately says with a bit of surprise, “North and South working together…”
Nero d’Avola, generally, is a great everyday wine. The amount of sun and the length of the growing season results in an intense fruit with a high sugar content. In the years past this grape was best known for Marsala but the vine is truly antique, yes a heirloom vine, or as our buddies from winespectator would say, an Autochthon. Nero d’Avola was first grown by the Phoenicians and later by the Greeks and Romans. It became famous in the late 1773 thanks to the Englishman Woodhouse. While he was traveling to Mazara del Vallo a storm surprised the expedition. The ship sought safety in the port of Marsala.
To celebrate his fortuitous rescue Woodhouse went to a tavern, known for its marvelous local port style wine, by the port. He was slain by the Nero d’Avola’s rich flavor and full body. Since the business deal he had come to Calabria to secure was no longer possible he purchased the entire production available.
Transporting wines was not so simple. The wine would surely go bad before he could return to England. The solution, add more alcohol. Within 2 years Marsala was in every European court and the official wine on England’s navy.
Nero d’Avola is an antique wine. This robust wine will please most American tastes. It is a great wine for red meat roasts, wild fowl and some aged cheeses. The alcohol content is usually between 12.5 and 13.5 % but can arrive at 15% in certain conditions. The color is intense ruby red with orange highlights in the fingernails. Since this wine is not yet well known it remains one of the best buys available with an extraordinary price quality relationship. This may not remain true over time given the limited area of production.
Tags: Nero d'Avola Heirloom Wines Red Wine Italian Wine Sicily Sommelier Food and Wine Travel Italy