Sicily is without a doubt the melting pot of the Mediterranean. This island’s earliest inhabitants included tribes from the Iberian peninsula, North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean as well as the islands and mainland of the nearby Italian peninsula. Cultural influences were felt by settlement from and intermixing with Egyptians, Phoenicians, Carthaginians and the Greeks. The island was the first non-Italian mainland addition to the Roman Empire. Subsequently, the island was ruled by the Byzantines, Normans, Austrians and Spanish. It wasn’t until the 1800’s that it became reunited with Italy, a union that was fought for decades by many of its inhabitants. Today it is an autonomous region within the nation of Italy.
With its consistent climate and its uniquely rocky but rich soil, Sicily is one of the world’s ideal spots for growing grapes. Most historians speculate that viniculture could have begun there as early as 4,000 years ago. Certainly it was already active in trading wine throughout the Mediterranean when it became a part of greater Greece in 750 AD. Many of the unique native varietals found in Sicily today can be traced to vines brought to the island by either Arabs or Greeks. Homer in his epic, “The Odyssey “, tells of Ulysses pacifying the One-Eyed Cyclops by offering wine from Mt. Etna.
Today, one of the signature grapes of Sicily that is gaining in recognition and popularity is Nero d’Avola (Black of Avola). It is the most widely planted red wine grape on the island. Nero d’Avola can produce heavy, concentrated (sometimes almost syrupy) intensely fruity wine with high alcohol content. Until the 1980’s, its usage was mostly confined to being used as a blending grape by Italian and French winemakers. Its intensity helped to fortify weaker red wines. The development of newer techniques in viniculture and oenology has helped to tame some of the harsher tendencies of this bold grape. They include night harvesting and usage of cooled storage vats to mitigate tendencies toward rapid over ripening and early fermentation.
Nero d’Avola produces a deep red wine with full red and black fruit flavors and a touch of spice. Some have referred to it as the Sicilian “Shiraz”. It certainly has some comparable characteristics: it reacts well with oak. It blends well with both cabernet sauvignon and merlot but makes an interesting single varietal. It is capable of improving with age but also produces a wine that can be drunk young. When done well, it offers a great value for the red wine aficionado.
Here are some of the Sicilian brands that The Wine Guy has tried and would recommend if you’re interested in exploring Nero d’Avola: Cusumano, Feudo, Donnafugata, and Colosi.
Enjoy a glass of “the black one” from Avola soon. You’ll probably be pleased you did. Salute!