Nero d’Avola is rarely found outside of Sicily. Brought by the Greeks to the Mediterranean’s largest island (Sicily), it is named because of its almost black skin (nero means black in Italian). It is also named after the town of Avola, located close to the town of Siracusa where the Greeks arrived several centuries B.C.
The varietal, which flourishes in Sicily’s hot and arid climate, is the most planted red grape on Sicily. Nero d’Avola is often compared to Syrah, as the two thrive in similar growing conditions. Syrah is also an intensely colored grape. Both Nero and Syrah offer sweet tannins as well as peppery and plum profiles. Nero, however, is more aromatic and its seductive flavors of raspberries, cherries nearly billow out of the glass.
There are > 100 different micro-climates in Sicily and Nero has its own distinctive features depending on which area it is grown. In general, the western side of the island produces more intensely concentrated black-fruit wines that can be harsh and muscular. In Sicily’s central area, the grape tends to produce wines that have more red fruit character. But, it is in the southeast, that Nero d’Avola reaches its pinnacle where wines are elegant with after tastes of dried fruits. The Wine-Knows group that will be visiting Sicily this Fall will be staying on a famous wine estate in this prized growing region.
The grape can be vinified as a single varietal, or blended with others. The most famous blending is with Frappato to make Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Sicily’s only DOCG (Italy’s top wine classification). Here 30-50% of Nero d’Avola is blended with the lighter weight Frappato. Nero adds the muscular backbone, while Frappato’s freshness softens. More recently, Sicilians have even begun to blend Nero with Syrah trying to create a more international-style wine.
What to pair with Nero d’Avola? Grilled meats and chicken are perfect, however, Sicily’s famous pasta a la Norma (eggplant and tomatoes) is also magnifico. Another of the island’s most prized culinary items is swordfish. Especially if it’s grilled, swordfish can be lovely when paired with Nero.