When it comes to Italian wine, one of the most historic locations is Sicily with its native grapes like Nero d’Avola and it’s status as an internatinoal trading crossroads. Sicily, which has a varied terrain and a volcanic mountain at its core, Sicily is one of the most important wine regions in Italy. In fact, Sicilian wine is one of the island’s most important agriculture crops.
One of the keystone grapes of Sicily is Nero d’Avola, “black of Avola”. It is, arguably, one of the most important wine grapes in Sicily, as well as one of the most important indigenous grapes of Italy. The dusty black grape is a special resident of Sicily, and was once confined to the southern tip, in the small town of Avola, but now is widely planted on Sicily.
Nero d’Avola offers something for everyone – both as a single varietal and as a blending component. The rich, bold red wines that come from this area can be smoothed out and tamed with blending, but still hold a firm structure. From an everyday drinking (dare I say country) wine, to a nuanced and expressive blend of some of Italy’s best wine, Nero d’Avola is becoming more popular – particularly in the New World, where the excellent value can give you an entry point in to Italian wine without staying for the bar exam and saving for a small car.
Here, the Planeta family has been farming for 500 years. They are an important family on Sicily have been involved in the revitalization of Sicilian wine. Beginning from their roots at the family estate, Sambuca di Sicilia, the winery was born in the 1980s and they have sought out Sicily’s diverse soils to plant with with native and international varietals. Now with six wineries, the Planeta wines are widely acclaimed and enjoyed globally.
In 2012, the Planeta refocused on terroir driven wines and brought in two French consultants, Florent Dumeau and Xaviér Choné, to bring forward the local diversity and focus on the specific terroir of each of the six wineries.
Planeta encompasses six distinct wine estates across Sicily, each one inspired and constructed in harmony with its surroundings and dedicated to its terroir.
Planeta’s journey begins at Sambuca di Sicilia, on the estate owned by the family since the 1600s. Here on Italy’s most enchanting island, three enthusiastic young Sicilians, Alessio, Francesca and Santi Planeta, under the guidance of Diego Planeta, began their winemaking venture in the mid-1980s. Subsequent years were spent matching the extraordinarily diverse Sicilian soils with both indigenous and international varieties. Years of careful research paid off when the Planeta wines were met with immediate critical acclaim upon introduction in the U.S. in the late 1990s.
Wines of Note:
Produced in Sicily’s only DOCG region of Vittoria, this Nero d’Avola is spicy and lighter on the nose than it first appears.
A blend of 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato, it shows with bright tangerine peel and floral nose, mostly due to the Frappato. The palate of bright, juicy, fruit and a savory finish of balsamic soaked strawberries and freshly foraged mushrooms, with a hint of fresh orange zest. This gives way to ashy tannins a a pleasant finish. The acidity keeps this wine fresh, and could easily age for much longer.
This wine is easy to drink – and only 13% ABV – and could be at home with a burger or a steak as well as a nice salumi plate full of Sicilian sausages.
Another great value, this 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Nocera is at once bold and bruising as it jumps out of the glass. Nocera is another one of those deep, dark, “black” grapes which produce Italian wine that is rich, bold but maintains high acid and is a natural pairing for Nero d’Avola, as it’s another native grape.
Juicy cherry and plum with hints of violets give way to deep blue fruit with silky tannins. Black pepper is sprinkled throughout. Hints of leather and aging tobacco play on the finish with a less savory but still saline ending.
Noto, tucked away in the southeast of Sicily, is actually home to the commune of Avola, which is expected to be the home of Nero d’Avola. A fairly young DOC, only earning this distinction in 2008, Noto is actually more well known for Moscato, a highly aromatic version of the white wine.
Here, the Nero d’Avola is produced in small amounts, and is rarely exported, so this is a special treat. We were lucky to be able to taste two variations:
2015 Santa Cecelia Noto DOC
Herbal and raiseny on the nose, with wafting layers of earl grey tea and bergamot. Dried cherries and strawberries layer on the tea smoke, and the pleasant bitter but sweet skin of fresh plums also lingers. Dried orange peel peeks out of the bold wine with firm structure but elegant body.
The dusty finish might remind you of pencil shavings, but for me, more dried herbs and bold berry flavors hiding under layers of dried tobacco and old saddle leather finish on the clean palate.
A few moments in the glass and the dusty hay gives way to more bold fruit, balsamic macerated strawberries, blackberries and cherries.
This wine is begging for food, and I would pair it with some cherry glazed duck.
Like it’s sister above this 100% Nero d’Avola wine is from the small DOC of Noto. Another power wine, it is different than the Santa Cecelia in both age, and a certain savory character. Tons of umami , with a more pronounced forest floor profile, showcase the aged balsamic base with mushrooms and smoked meat.
Hidden treasures of berry and mocha come out after a bit of time, but the herbal base and anise tone remain. The 2012 is holding tight to it’s bright acidity, but the tannins and soft and pleasant wilth a distinct iron finish.
Finally, the 2016 La Segreta Nero d’Avola Sicilia DOC, under screwcap, shows us how even a value priced Nero d’Avola can be a winner. At an average price point of <$15, this is a terrific wine for any time.
Also 100% Nero d’Avola, this crowd pleasure comes from the southwestern central coast of Sicily. A younger and fresher style of Nero d’Avola, the fresh boysenberries are followed by plums, dark chocolate, and forest fruits. The spice rack adds to the intrigue and the simple finish is adequate for pairing with a pizza or salumi platter.
Not particular complex and yet intriguing and perfect for a spicy Sicilian meal!
As you can see, Nero d’Avola is a fairly diverse style that varies from excellent value to a delicious splurge. It is a wine of depth and flavor, and is a perfect pairing for salumi plates, cheese places and pizza – as well as – well – anything!
Special thanks to Taub Family Selections for hosting a delightful tasting and lunch, where the Riedel Nero d’Avola glass was highlighted and provided. These slightly narrower at the nose glasses focus the intense aromas of the Nero d’Avola to an optimal level, creating the best tasting experience.
If you’re a glass geek like i am, you’ll love these varietal series glasses!