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An easy guide to Nero d’Avola: history and character of the grape, and useful information on where is it grown, what does it taste like, and how to pair Nero d’Avola wines with Sicilian and international cuisine.
Nero d’Avola is for sure the most famous Sicilian red grape, and one of the most widely planted all over the Island. Covering more than 17.500 hectares, it represents today (2016) about 16% of the Sicilian vineyard.
As shown in the picture by the blue lines, genetic researches reveal a second-degree relationship between Nero d’Avola, Catarratto and Inzolia – which are the most antique indigenous grapes grown in Sicily since the Greek colonization, about VIII-VI century BC.
This fact, together with the numerous clones and biotypes of Nero d'Avola that are cultivated today in different parts of Sicily, confirms the complexity of Sicilian terroir, the splendor of our traditional viticulture and the ancient origins of the variety.
Although its presence in Sicily is recorded since age-old times, the first scholar to write about Nero d’Avola was botanist Francesco Cupani in 1696, who labelled the grape with the synonym “Calabrese”.
This word he used does not refer to any belonging of the Nero d’Avola to Calabria region in Southern Italy, though the term may be confusing. In this case, Calabrese is a compound word formed by joining “calea” and “aulìsi”, the first word meaning “grape” in ancient Sicilian language and the second word meaning “from Avola”. So, the exact meaning of Nero d’Avola is simply “the black grape from Avola”.
Avola is a tiny little village in Southern-East Sicily, province of Siracusa, where Nero d’Avola is the signature grape of terroir: from that area, the variety spread across Sicily throughout the centuries, thanks to its flexible character and its adaptability to different altitudes and to Mediterranean climate.
Nero d’Avola is grown today all over Sicily, with a main presence in the provinces of Agrigento, Caltanissetta and Siracusa. There is also a good amount of Nero d’Avola in the Ragusa area, where this grape is blended with Frappato to make the Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG wines.
In order to upgrade the average quality of Nero d'Avola wines in the market, and also to control the bottling of Nero d'Avola wines within the Sicilian borders, the majority of Sicilian producers has recently decided that - starting from vintage 2016 - no Nero d'Avola should be sold without a DOC or a DOCG appellation. That's why you will not find any Nero d'Avola under IGTs or Vino da Tavola appellations anymore.
CHARACTERISTICS OF NERO D’AVOLA GRAPES
Nero d’Avola is a vigorous vine, and generally highly productive. That’s why it is very important to control the yields per hectare to produce quality wines (and, on a side note, that is also why you see many Nero d’Avola wines on the market that are not high quality).
The vine is very sensitive to both extreme humidity and drought, thus a limited but granted water supply during the driest summers is crucial not only to obtain a balanced production, but also to protect the vineyard from excessive stress that may lead to the vines’ death.
Medium sized bunches, often not very compact, and oval berries with a blue-black skin get ripe between the end of August and the first half of September, depending on the vineyards’ altitude and the local climatic variations.
NERO D’AVOLA: TASTING NOTES
Three main biotypes are cultivated in different parts of Sicily: biotype A belongs to inland areas of Agrigento and Caltanissetta provinces, biotype B is mostly grown in Western Sicily, while biotype C can be found in the South-East.
Each biotype gives different wines, which character is able to define the personality of different terroirs.
- Biotype A is the strongest: higher alcohol levels, generally high acidity and a big fruity palate of cherry and red berries.
- Biotype B has a fresher aromatic profile: it can develop a lower sugar content, a slimmer body and a milder tannic feeling, giving birth to wines that are generally very approachable and easy to drink.
- Biotype C is very spicy and astringent, with a good presence of red berries and it is probably the most suitable for a long oak barrel refining.
SERVING TIPS AND FOOD PAIRING
Pour Nero d’Avola wines in oversized red wine glasses, at a fresh room temperature about 60-64 °F: some older vintages may require decanting for a few hours, in order to appreciate their structure and complexity at best.
Nero d’Avola pairs very well with food: bigger and bolder Neros will match perfectly with meaty dishes, as their tannic character will be softened by a fatty feeling or by a long juicy braising. Younger and fruit-forward wines with a fresher herbal profile will profit from a lighter marriage: try them with chicken, cheese, bean salads, pasta dishes and (why not?) some rich tuna fish fillet.
MORE RESOURCES ON NERO D'AVOLA
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