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Cusumano Nero d'Avola 2010
A large, geographically and climatically diverse island off the toe of Italy, Sicily has long been recognized for its fortified Marsala wines. It is also home to red and white table wines that have been steadily increasing in quality and popularity over the past few decades, allowing Italy’s fourth largest wine-producing region to shed its former image as merely a supplier of bulk wine. Certainly, plenty of bulk wine is still made here, but those who look beyond that will find plenty of high-quality wines for every-day drinking as well as bottles from boutique producers who espouse thoughtful vineyard practices (the organic wine movement thrives here). Though most think of the climate here as simply hot and dry, there is some variation on the sun-drenched island, particularly at high elevation on the slopes of Mount Etna.
Although Sicily’s comeback began with clever labels and easily recognizable international varieties, its charm lies in its indigenous grapes. Nero d’Avola is the most widely planted red variety, responsible for full-bodied, berry fruited wines throughout the island. In Cerasuolo di Vittoria, it is blended with the lighter, more floral Frappato to create an elegantly balanced wine. On the volcanic soils of Mount Etna, many noteworthy wines are being produced in every color—whites from Cataratto and Carricante, and rosés from Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. All of these wines share a racy streak of minerality and at their best can bear more than a slight resemblance to their respective Burgundies. Grillo and Inzolia, the grapes of Marsala, are used to produce generally simple, crisp dry whites. Pantelleria, a subtropical island belonging to the province of Sicily, specializes in Moscato di Pantelleria, made from the variety locally known as Zibibbo.
Opulent and fruit-driven with robust tannins, Nero d’Avola is Sicily’s most widely planted red grape variety. Popular throughout Sicily both on its own and in blends, it features alongside Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, and Nocera in full-bodied Faro, and with Frappato in Cerasuolo di Vittoria to produce a light, lively wine.
In the Glass
Nero d’Avola is a bold, powerful wine with relatively high alcohol, moderate acidity, and an affinity for oak. Its flavors and aromas are of dark fruit (like plum, blackberry, and black cherry), peppery spice and sweet cocoa, occasionally accompanied by an earthy or herbal character. Dried fruit flavors are also common due to the hot weather this variety requires to thrive.
Nero d’Avola’s dark, spicy flavors lend it well to richly flavored grilled meat dishes, but can also be a great compliment to simple pizza or pasta.
If you love big, bold wines like Napa Cabernet and Châteauneuf-du-Pape but want to stick to a budget, look no further than Nero d’Avola for a worthy substitute. Even the best examples are often under $20.