Tall, dark, handsome... well, dark and Italian, at least... nero d'avola.
A Bit of History
Nero d'avola was the quiet, smart girl in the back of the classroom. The girl you were really grateful to have as part of your group project because you knew she had it together, but you never "hung out" or anything. And then, BOOM! She came back senior year and... you know the story.
Nero d'avola, grown in the mountainous and sun-drenched, but crappy soil, of Sicily, was always the blending grape -- the group project grape. It was and is still used to fortify weaker wines from northern Italy and France, and is used a great deal in Marsala blends. But, the 1980s were neros' senior year -- it's big reveal. It was then, perhaps inspired by Madonna or Miami Vice, that a new generation of Sicilian winemakers began focusing on quality rather than quantity and put some craftsmanship back into the wine of the island. A return to the indigenous, and the continued introduction of and experimentation with foreign grapes, were all a part of this winemaking renaissance. One product of this rebirth was nero d'avola as a standalone varietal.
What's it Like?
Often compared to Shiraz, at its best it is full of plum and cherry and is smoky, spicy or earthy. However, there are plenty of duds, so definitely do some research or keep it on the cheap until you find a solid go-to. Or don't.
As with any legit wine-growing region, Sicily's er... monochromatic climate helps with consistency, but not necessarily greatness. Wine is subjective, no? While some will only tolerate a red that punches them in the face [raises hand], others may prefer and appreciate the lesser intensity of some neros. You just gotta give it a try.
Where to start?
I have recently checked out two nero d'avolas on the lower end of the price spectrum (although most are under $20 anyways).
2013 Costa Pietra Nero D'Avola: This one arrived via, and is exclusive to, Club W membership. It was $13 through the club and definitely a more medium-bodied wine. The aroma was very fruity, but it had a good spice to it and some ripe tannins. My husband enjoyed it immensely. I appreciated it, but do prefer a more full-bodied red.
2011 Cusumano Nero D'Avola: I picked this one up in an effort to find the dark, earthy and full wine that neros are rumored to be. It did not disappoint. It was $11 at my neighborhood wine shop but is listed for $16 on some websites. Either way, it's a good buy. If you find it for $11, buy two. It's a gorgeous garnet color and has a spicy and juicy nose. On the palate, cherry and plum are immediately present and it has a lasting, earthy finish. Frankly, it tastes like Italy, which is, I think, what we're going for when selecting a Sicilian wine.
If you don't trust me, Eric Asimov shares some insights and options here.
On the Horizon...
Some say neros will be the next Malbec. We'll see. A fact, though, is that many outside of Sicily are experimenting and succeeding with nero. California, of course, and more interestingly, Turkey. Check out the Nexus 2011 from Urla Sarapcilik .