Monday, February 16, 2015



Dec-JAN  2014/2015

Lovers of esoteric grapes have plenty to choose from in Italy. One of those grapes, however, is enjoying a popularity that puts it squarely in the ranks of Italy’s top reds. Nero d’Avola, Sicily’s prime red grape, is now in the country’s top five, joining Nebbiolo (Barolo), Sangiovese (Brunello), Corvina (Amarone), and Aglianico (Taurasi). It forms 50-70% of the blend of Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG in Ragusa, and is stunning on its own from the coastal village of Noto in Siracusa.

With inviting notes of black cherry, blueberry, violet and earth, Nero d’Avola is pleasing even to a New World palate, though it is generally much lighter in body. Oaked versions take on a sleek, supple character. Keep in mind the Italians drink wine with food, not as a cocktail, so even the ripest, oakiest wines have tart acidity and bitter notes. Here are my top picks:

Full and Powerful
2008 Planeta Santa Cecilia Noto DOC $35
-          This Bordeaux-like 100% Nero d’Avola has notes of cedar, cinnamon, carob, black cherry, raspberry, sundried tomato, green olive, leather and tobacco. It has ripe fruit, juicy acidity and firm tannins.

2008 Tasca d’Almerita Rosso del Conte Contea di Sclafani DOC $70
-          First produced in the ‘60’s by Count Guiseppe Tasca, Rosso del Conte was one of the first serious, oak-aged Sicilian reds. Aged 18 months in barrique and another 12 months in bottle before release, this is truly an iconic wine. It has notes of cedar, vanilla, strawberry jam, tomato sauce, cumin, savory stewed meats, orange rind, red licorice, thyme, and lavender, and is elegant and well-structured with firm tannins and gentle balancing acidity.

2008 Donnafugata Mille e una Notte Contessa Entellina Rosso DOC $89
-          From the Rallo family’s Contessa Entellina clay and limestone based estate in South-western Sicily, this serious, barrique and bottle aged offering has notes of cassis, blackberry, cherry, orange rind, stewed tomato, zucchini, earth, mulch, tobacco, cigar box, heady, musky perfume (think Opium), new car, and leather furniture. It is elegant, complex, and has a long life ahead.

Medium-bodied & Spicy
2011 Planeta Cerasuola di Vittoria DOCG $30
-          This blend of 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato is widely available and a great introduction to the modern reds of Sicily. It is smoky with ripe dark berry, chocolate-covered cherry, Ghana dark chocolate , vanilla, cedar spice, Sumatra coffee, black licorice, fennel seed, braised meats, bacon, clove-studded orange and pork rind.

2011 Tenuta Rapitola Nero d’Avola Campo Reale Sicilia IGT $16
-          Complex and inviting with notes of raspberry, cherry compote, pomegranate, mandarin orange, sundried tomato, rhubarb, ragout, cinnamon red hots candy, red licorice, fennel seed, dark bitter chocolate, cigar box, cumin, dried leaves, and leather.

2011 Feudo Maccari Nero d’Avola Sicilia IGT $18
-          This strong, bold wine has notes of carob, black currant, Luxardo cherry cordial, Fernet Branca, Sabra liqueur, blood sausage, white pepper and nutmeg.  It is lighter on the palate than expected with it’s hefty 14.5% abv. Tannins and freshs acids interact nicely and the finish is long and earthy. 

2010 Valle Dell’Acate Cerasuola di Vittoria Classico DOCG $23
-          This blend of 70% Nero d’Avola and 30% Frappato is elegant and soft spoken with notes of cherry, stewed tomato, brown mushroom, pipe tobacco, black licorice, black tea leaves, oregano, sage, thyme, and fine black pepper dust. The structure is Bordeaux-like, with soft fine tannins and gentle but persistent acidity. Black raisin and fig dominate the finish. 

2009 Morgante Don Antonio Nero d’Avola Riserva Sicilia IGT $20
-          This deeply flavored Nero d’Avola has notes of carrot cake, zucchini bread, chocolate ganache, white chocolate, vanilla, cedar, juicy blackberry, cherry, strawberry jam, cherry cola, crumbled sage, mulch, wet garden, radicchio and arugula. It is round, supple, and creamy with an interplay of dark berry fruit and root beer on the palate.

Light and Elegant
2012 Cusumano Benuara Terre Siciliana IGT $18
-          Robust, full-bodied, and slightly chewy, with notes of sour cherry, fig, plum, earth, tar, button mushroom, turmeric, coriander seed, sesame seed, and celery.

2011 Masseria del Feudo il giglio Nero d’Avola Sicilia IGT $16.50
-          With notes of strawberry, cherry pie, Fanta orange soda, and creamsicle, this could initially be mistaken for a New World wine, yet distinct notes of tinder, moss, damp earth, and salami bring it home to Italy.

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