Sicily’s renaissance as one of Italy’s most important wine producing regions has been nothing short of remarkable in recent years.
For so long, the region was maligned as the producer of average wines that were never going to gain critical acclaim. Unfortunately, this reputation carried through for many years after local producers took steps to improve the wine’s that Sicily produces.
Thankfully, their efforts are starting to bear fruit. Wines from Sicily are slowing gaining the acclaim that they have deserved for so long. In fact, many a wine critic will point to the best examples of Sicilian wines as being well-kept secrets that people who show far more interest in.
We’re delighted to see this turnaround in fortunes, which has even seen the United States develop a taste for the Sicilian vines. And to celebrate the region’s rise back to prominence, we thought that we’d take a look at its most important red wine grape.
We’re talking, of course, about the wonderful Nero d’Avola.
Some of you may know Nero d’Avola better as the Calabrese grape, which is a name that many of the local Sicilian producers call it by.
This name is a source of contention in its own right. Some argue that it proves that the grape actually originates from the region of Calabria. However, others may tell you that the name comes from the term “Calaurisi”, which is an ancient term for somebody who comes from the town of Avola.
Regardless, it may be the single most important red wine grape in all of Sicily’s wine industry. Vineyards containing the grape are found practically all over the island, which results in vast quantities of the grape coming from the region. For centuries, it has stood as the backbone of many of the best wines that Sicily has to offer.
The grape is known for having an exceptionally dark skin, which means it also produces some very dense examples of red wine.
What’s as interesting to us is that the name of the grape itself is also distinctly Sicilian. You can find the coastal town of Avola in Sicily’s southeast. It has long been one of the most important trading posts on the island, so it makes sense that it would also be home to Sicily’s most important grape. After all, Avola would be the perfect place to go for any wine producer who wants to ship their wares elsewhere.
A Brief History
You can trace Nero d’Avola all the way back to the Middle Ages. Back then, the grape’s dark colouring was its most important feature. Though producers of the time did create wines using the grape, it was far more common for them to ship batches of Nero d’Avola to the mainland.
There, they’d be used by other producers to lend some much-needed colour to some of the lesser wines produced on the mainland. While this highlights the quality of the grape, it may also have helped to give rise to the idea that Sicily does not produce great grapes. After all, many would find themselves discovering the grape from a relatively poor wine. That’s not the fault of Nero d’Avola, but it surely left an impression.
Interestingly, this use as a blending grape has defined most of Nero d’Avola’s history. It predominantly served the same function throughout much of the 20thcentury. Again, this led to many people underestimating the grape. Some even saw it as little more than a natural colourant that served no purpose beyond making a wine appear darker.
Then, the 21stcentury came and with it came the renaissance of Sicilian wines. Nero d’Avola finally came to the forefront as a varietal. Today, it’s not difficult to find wines made using only the grape. And it’s those wines that prove the quality that so many doubted for so long.
What Can You Expect From Nero d’Avola
It’s entirely likely that you’ve never tried a Nero d’Avola wine before. If that’s the case, you are definitely in for a treat.
The wine comes from a region that shares a similar climate to other Mediterranean regions. As such, the grape produces wines that have many similar qualities to the wonderful Syrah of Shiraz, which likely gives you an instant impression of what to expect from it.
The wine tends to offer sweet tannins with heavy notes of plum defining it. However, some varieties add a little complexity into the mix by introducing peppery notes.
How the wine appears owes much to the production method. When produced in oak barrels, the grape creates a dark wine that’s dense in terms of flavour. It’s these varieties of Nero d’Avola that also offer the most potential for ageing. Such examples also tend to offer more interesting notes, which raspberry and chocolate being among the most common.
It’s the younger and fresher versions of the wine that tend to exhibit the fruitiest notes. As such, there’s plenty of variety to find when you’re poring through Nero d’Avola wines.
Generally speaking, a Nero d’Avola will offer medium acidity with high tannins. You’ll also take note of a distinctive body that lends the wine a very powerful structure.
This power tends to wane when drinking varieties grow at higher elevations. This is by no means a bad thing. It just means that cooler climates restrict the grape’s sugar content, which leads to lower alcohol volumes. Thus, these examples of the wine tend to be more palatable for those who prefer a fresher taste.
Finally, it’s also popularly used to create a Rosé wine. Again, this shows the versatility of the grape.
The Final Word
Nero d’Avola’s rise in prominence has led to the global wine industry taking notice. The grape has finally started to follow some of its peers, as it’s being trialled in both Australia and California as we speak. Both regions offer ideal temperatures for the grape, which means we may see America and Australian Nero d’Avola wines sooner rather than later.
But of course, it’s the Sicilian original that will always be the most beloved. It’s a true example of a grape that’s finally achieving the recognition that it’s been denied for so long.