Nero D'Avola.
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Nero d'Avola is the most important red wine grape in Sicily, and is one of Italy's most important indigenous varieties. Avola, as it happens, is a wine-growing village in Southeastern Sicily, where the variety evolved through selection by vine growers centuries ago, and from where it has spread throughout the island. Its wines are compared to New World Shirazes, with sweet tannins and plum or peppery flavours. It also contributes to Marsala blends. For generations it was used primarily to make strong, neutral red wine that was shipped throughout Europe to be used - often surreptitiously - to add color and weight to lighter reds, prompting some French producers to nickname it "le vin médecine."

In Sicily, a wine-rich land where the locals have as many words related to wines and grapes as the Eskimos allegedly have for snow, Nero d'Avola is also called "Calabrese", a synonym that for years prompted the experts to assume that the variety was originally imported from Calabria on the mainland. But that's not so, the inaccurate synonym Calabrese ("from Calabria") appears to be an Italianisation of "Calaurisi", a Sicilian dialect word meaning "coming from Avola".

Its parentage is uncertain - it may or may not be related to Syrah, which some people claim is named after Syracuse. There are no significant plantings outside Sicily.

Whatever the relationship, Nero d'Avola is treated like Syrah, making mostly big red wines with ageing potential. It also gets made into a lighter style for drinking young, which might be compared to some of the New World Shiraz rosés. In the past it was exported to quietly 'beef up' wines from more northern climes, but is now enjoying success as a proudly Sicilian varietal.

Translated "The black of Avola," this grape makes a rich, perfumed and velvety red wine that's easy to drink but that can take a bit of aging, works well in blends with other grapes, and can benefit from (but does not require) the judicious use of oak. That's a lot to like in a wine grape, and it's a description that could just as easily fit many of the most desirable red varieties.


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