I thought I’d try something novel and write about wine twice in the same week!
Later today, Carpe Vinum will be studying Heavyweight Reds. It’s winter — we’re all hibernating a little, and craving heartier foods. And what better partner for hearty foods than hearty (heavyweight) wines? We’ll be doing wine profiles and food pairings for Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Touriga Nacional, and Nero d’Avola (my assignment).
Translated literally, Nero d’Avola means Black of Avola. Nero d’Avola sounds more like a Roman General than a wine grape to me. My mind jumped immediately to Russell Crowe as Maximus: “At my signal, unleash hell.” (Gladiator remains one of the best/most disturbing movies of all time).
Nero d’Avola is a think-skinned, late-ripening grape, indigenous to the Italian island of Sicily. It’s also called Calabrese, leading some to believe it originated in neighboring Calabria, but the Sicilians disagree. I’m gonna go with the Sicilians on this one. Hey, I saw The Godfather.
If you’re like me and need a map to think, here’s a map. Avola is located near the southeastern tip of the island of Sicily. And, for reverence, Don Corleone was born in the small village of Corleone, just to the south of Palermo.
Nero d’Avola craves a Mediterranean climate — hot, sunny, and dry. Sicily is the perfect habitat. Nero d’Avola will express itself differently based on exactly where in Sicily it’s grown. For example, when Nero is “grown at higher altitudes near the center of the island, Nero d’Avola wines tend to have paler colors and more mineral personalities; in vineyards at lower altitudes and warmer climates, they are richer and more structured.”1
Once upon a time, Nero d’Avola was little known outside of Italy, and used mostly as a blending grape. Barrels of it were sent to France (where it was called le vin médecine) to help bolster lighter red wines. Over the past decade or so, Sicily has been enjoying a wine renaissance. Sicily has emerged from producing oceans of cheap, mostly plonky wines, to some very serious bottles, many of which are capable of aging. And Nero d’Avola is spearheading that renaissance. Nero d’Avola is still blended quite a bit in Sicily (especially with Frappato), but it’s increasingly produced as a single-varietal wine, showing off its complexities to the world.
Nero d’Avola is described as a heavy, dark red, with higher alcohol (14+%), higher tannins, and medium to high acidity. It’s often compared to Shiraz/Syrah. I’ll admit, I don’t have much experience with Nero d’Avola. I’ve tasted a handful of bottles over the years, but I’ve never given them a lot of thought. I’m excited about revisiting Nero d’Avola with a bit more focus at Carpe Vinum today. I bought both a high-end bottle at $40, and an economy bottle at $16. I’m anxious to see how big the difference in quality is. Or isn’t.