Nero d’Avola (also known as Calabrese) is the most important and widely planted red wine grape variety in Sicily. Vast volumes of Nero d’Avola are produced on the island every year, and have been for centuries. The dark-skinned grape is of great historical importance to Sicily and takes its present-day name from the town of Avola on the island’s southeast coast. The area was a hotbed of trade and population movement during the Middle Ages and Nero d’Avola was frequently used to add color and body to lesser wines in mainland Italy.
Translated, Nero d’Avola means "Black of Avola", a reference to the grape’s distinctive dark colouring, but its exact origins are the subject of debate. The region of Calabria can lay claim to the variety via its synonym Calabrese (meaning "of Calabria"), though this term may be a derivation of Calaurisi, an ancient name for someone from Avola.
For most of the 20th Century, Nero d’Avola was used as a blending grape and very rarely appeared on wine labels. By the turn of the 21st Century, however, the grape’s fortunes had changed considerably and it is now common to find Nero d’Avola produced as a varietal wine as well. It is often compared to Syrah because it likes similar growing conditions (Sicily has a hot Mediterranean climate) and exhibits many similar characteristics.
Depending on production methods, Nero d’Avola can be made into dense and dark wine that is stored in oak barrels and suitable for aging, or young and fresh wines. Younger wines show plum and juicy, red-fruit flavors, while more complex examples offer chocolate and dark raspberry flavors.
Nero d’Avola typically has high tannins, medium acid and a strong body. However, it can also be very smooth if grown at higher elevations where the air is cooler and alcohol levels are restricted. It thrives on the eastern part of Sicily and is being trialed in Australia and California. Because of its generous color, Nero d’Avola is sometimes produced as rosé wine.
Food matches include:
Europe: Eggplant and tomato pasta (pasta alla norma); chicken salad with pomegranate, pinenuts and raisins (rosé)
Asia: Caramelized barbecued pork patties (bun cha); flour noodles with meat sauce
Americas: Argentinian parrilla-grilled, grass-fed steak; chili con carne
Africa/Middle East: Lamb-stuffed courgettes (koosa bil ablama) (rosé)