Serious Grape: Nero d'Avola Under $20


Photograph: Sarah Chappell

Sicily has emerged as the new rock star region of Italy, with a plethora of promising indigenous grapes and a recent turn towards quality of production over quantity. Nero d'Avola, long used as a component in blends to add body and aging potential, has lately been making a name for itself as a varietal wine.

Often compared to Syrah both in flavor and its favored growing conditions, Nero d'Avola thrives in the island warmth of Sicily. Most of the wines are labeled under the IGT Sicilia, which allows winemakers to source fruit from anywhere on the island. This heat-loving grape can produce lush yet balanced wines with smooth tannins, friendly acidity and plummy flavors. Entry-level Nero d'Avola has much to offer and is ready to be a fixture at the table.

Wines to Try

The Ala Nera Nero d'Avola 2009 has a surprisingly complex nose of barnyard, mulch, and fresh red fruits. The wine has refreshing acidity and smooth tannins and is perfect to have on hand for pizza night. (Around $10, find this wine)

Warm, sun-ripened fruit scents jump out of the 2009 Case Ibidini Nero d'Avola. The palate has a light herbal note, with hints of thyme. A slight cherry candy core enriches this wine and makes it ideal for pairing with marinara. (Around $13, find this wine)

A glass of Feudo Montoni Nero d'Avola 2008 will need a minute to show its true colors. The initial impression is a hint of alcohol, but with time the wine opens to cassis and brandied cherries. Managing to be both medium bodied and richly flavorful with dried fruits and herbs on the palate, this wine would love a veal chop to pair with. (Around $16, find this wine)

2009 Mirabile Nero d'Avola has a lovely plum flesh color and fresh scents of black pepper and clove. While the alcohol is present on the palate, this medium bodied wine is savory and has notes of fresh black cherries and a touch of sweet spice on the finish. Try it with a warm grain salad. ($12-$15, find this wine)

The Gulfi "Rossojbleo" Nero d'Avola 2009, made from organic grapes, starts tight, but some time in a decanter helps it to open up and show brighter flavors of fresh and juicy raspberries with a hint of spice. Pair with hearty ragu. (Around $15, find this wine)

Disclaimer: All wines except the Gulfi and Feudo Montoni were provided as press samples for review.

About the Author: Sarah Chappell is a winemonger and writer living in Brooklyn. She holds the Advanced Certificate with Distinction from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust and has contributed to Palate Press and WineChap.