Nero d’Avola has for years been, by some distance, the single most important and widely planted red variety from the island of Sicily. Nero d’Avola literally means “black of Avola”, referring to the town of Avola in the southern Sicilian province of Syracuse. Less commonly, it also goes by the name Calabrese, referring to the region of Calabria, situated at the “toe cap” of the Italian mainland. Before the eventual rise and dominance of Rome, both Sicily and Calabria used to be Greek colonies, indeed part of Magna Graecia. Sicily is amongst the southernmost of European viticulture and winemaking, along with Cyprus, Crete (Greece) and Jérez (Spain).
The exact origin of Nero d’Avola remains unclear, or unestablished, but there seems to be nothing that modern DNA tests cannot find out. The Nero d’Avola vine is naturally vigorous, producing grapes with good acidity, high tannins, high sugar level and hence potentially high alcohol level. In extreme cases, potential alcohol level could reach an astonishing 17.5 percent. But in practice, no dry wine can reach that alcohol level, as yeasts invariably become inhibited and gradually die passing the 15.5 percent or 16 percent mark, leaving behind unfermented sugar, i.e. residual sugar. Nero d’Avola’s potentially excessive sugar and alcohol level, however, can be moderated by the altitude of vineyards.
Thanks to these inherent characteristics, Nero d’Avola used to be blended with anaemic wines from the Italian mainland during the Middle Ages, very much in the same way as Malbec wines from Cahors were used to bolster Bordeaux’s pale clairettes during the same period. It is tempting to draw parallels between Malbec and Nero d’Avola, not least because both are excellent varieties for rosé. For much for the 20th century, Nero d’Avola was mainly used in blends.
The good ol’ 70s, when general aesthetics and public tastes seemingly reached the lowest point in human history, with atrocious fashion, lurid exploitation films and carefree hippies etc, were the “golden age” of plonk, i.e. mass-produced rosés and semi-
sweet wines etc. Nero d’Avola did not escape unscathed from the misguided “Zeitgeist” – and sincere apologies to the German philosopher Georg Hegel, who coined this term – but both its history and future are prouder than that. At the turn of the 21st century, well-made and ageworthy single-varietal Nero d’Avola wine began to appear, ushering in a new dawn for this time-
A single-varietal Grillo, aged for three months in steel tanks, followed by two months in bottles. Bright lemon-yellow with light golden reflex, the pure nose offers lemon, grapefruit, mint tisane and macchia. With vibrant acidity and clear mineality, the intense palate delivers bergamot, pomelo, fresh herbs and flint. Medium-full bodied at 13 percent, the invigorating entry carries onto a potent mid-palate, leading to a herbal finish
Canicattì Aquilæ Nero d’Avola 2008
A single-varietal Nero d’Avola, aged briefly in French barriques, followed by three months in bottles. Dark garnet-rosewood with crimson-carmine rim, the fragrant nose presents black cherry, dried plum, black pepper, caffè mocha and geranium. With generous acidity and meaty tannins, the potent palate supplies dried raspberry, prune, liquorice, tobacco and charcoal. Full-bodied at 14 percent, the energetic entry continues through a robust mid-palate, leading to an assertive finish.
Canicattì Aynat Nero d’Avola 2007
A single-varietal Nero d’Avola, aged for 12 months in French barriques, followed by 12 months in bottles. Reddish black with carmine-rosewood rim, the impenetrable nose reveals dried cherry, prune, eucalyptus, Christmas spice and sandalwood. With abundant acidity and chewy tannins, the monumental palate furnishes brandy-soaked cherry, damson, allspice, black coffee and cedarwood. Full-bodied at 14.5 percent, the imposing entry persists through a complex mid-palate, leading to a redolent finish.
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain,
France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages