Introducing Nero d'Avola
But that could change, as this heretofore little-known grape of Sicily is starting to gain deserved publicity outside the football-shaped island off the "toe" of the Italian "boot."
Pronounced "Neh-roe Dah-voe-lah" and translated "The black (grape) of Avola," this grape makes a rich, perfumed and velvety red wine that's easy to drink but that can take a bit of aging, works well in blends with other grapes, and can benefit from (but does not require) the judicious use of oak. That's a lot to like in a wine grape, and it's a description that could just as easily fit many of the most desirable red varieties.
In Sicily, a wine-rich land where the locals have as many words related to wines and grapes as the Eskimos allegedly have for snow, Nero d'Avola is also called "Calabrese," a synonym that for years prompted the experts to assume that the variety was originally imported from Calabria on the mainland. But that's not so, according to my friend and Italian-wine expert Luca Mazzoleni, who says, "The synonym Calabrese is likely to be an 'italianization' of ancient vernacular name of Nero d'Avola, being 'Calaurisi,' which literally means 'coming from Avola'."
Avola, as it happens, is a wine-growing village in Southeastern Sicily, where the variety evolved through selection by vine growers centuries ago, and from where it has spread throughout the island. For generations it was used primarily to make strong, neutral red wine that was shipped throughout Europe to be used - often surreptitiously - to add color and weight to lighter reds, prompting some French producers to nickname it "le vin médecine."
As recently as the 1980s, plantings of Nero d'Avola declined in Sicily as many growers switched to international grape varieties thought more suitable for commerce. But now Nero d'Avola is coming back as the native grape earns a growing reputation in its own right. Today's tasting report offers just one fine low-price example, but you'll find the wine from many other producers. It's worth seeking out and getting to know.
Luca Mazzoleni's article, "A celebration of Nero d'Avola," which goes into considerable technical detail about the grape, is online at
Pasqua & Fazio "Mezzo Giorno" 1999 Nero d'Avola ($8.99)
This dark-garnet wine shows ripe, berrylike fruit aromas lent complexity by hints of leather and smoke. Warm and plummy with a touch of raisins and a hint of almonds in the flavor, there's sufficient acidity to give it structure, but the overall impression is soft as velvet. Although the finish isn't overly long, ripe and appealing fruit and surprising complexity for an inexpensive wine make it an exceptional value. U.S. importer: Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va. (March 27, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: A remarkable companion with lamb chops; rare meat rounds out the wine, and its lush fruit acts like a classic sauce.
VALUE: Exceptional value.
WHEN TO DRINK: Nero d'Avola is said to be a wine that will age, but exuberant fruit calls for drinking soon. It might be interesting to put a bottle or two aside and see what happens, but you won't go wrong by drinking it up in the next year or so.
WEB LINK: The U.S. importer's Italian wine portfolio is at
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Friday, March 28, 2003