Nero D’Avola, Sicily
2013; $8.99 – $11.99
A few years ago, when Sicilian wines were relatively new to New England, I tried a bottle.
It was an inexpensive dark red wine made from a grape that I had never heard of, which is not unusual; after all, Italian vineyards are home to more than 350 documented grape varietals. The wine, made from the Nero D’Avola grape, wasn’t very good by most standards, rough tasting with a strong tannic finish.
I liked it, however, for romantic reasons. It seemed exotic, a hearty drink made by hardy people, a wine downed with Sicilian bread, fresh fruits and cheeses during a break from working in the fields or tending the flock, on a sunny hillside overlooking white, sandy beaches and the Mediterranean. But it still wasn’t very good, and even though I vowed to acquire a taste for it, too many other, better wines got in the way, and I left the Sicilian offerings on the shelf.
The truth, it seems, was that Sicilian winemakers were keeping the best wines at home on the island and sending the rest to the U.S. market. Now, they’ve gotten more sophisticated, not only with their wine-making techniques and production, but also about developing fans in this country, particularly those of us who like a good value.
My interest in Sicilian wines, and particularly the most widely grown grape on the island, the indigenous Nero D’Avola, was rekindled recently when I noticed new additions showing up in wine stores. Colosi has been a dominant brand for years, and it’s good — the white and red blends are both well crafted — but now I had found three others to try.
Although I liked Corvo Insolia Sicilia Vendemmia, which I found on sale for $8.29, and Stemmari Nero D’Avola Sicilia, which had a $7.99 sale price, the best of the lot is Villa Pozzi Nero D’Avola Sicilia. All three are inky reds, and well worth a try.
In general, wines are not only a reflection of the skills of the winemakers, but they also are a product of the soils and climate. Sicilian grapes grow in fertile volcanic soil, deposits from the frequently erupting Mount Etna, and they benefit from things that New Englanders would kill for this time of year — a lot of sunshine, temperatures ranging from the 40s to the 70s, and just enough rain. The growing season is long, and the grapes develop intense flavors.
I also like to think that the wines made on the island are a reflection of the rich and checkered cultural history of Sicily, which is the largest island in the Mediterranean and sits in the strategic center of the trade routes linking Europe, Africa and Asia.
Sicily’s location is great for the weather and key for a thriving economy, but it’s not so good for self-determination. The list of the island’s invaders is as long as modern civilization and involves all of the big players starting with the Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans and followed by the Vandals, Arabs, Normans, Germans, French, Spanish and finally in 1860, Giuseppe Garibaldi, who made Sicily part of the kingdom of Italy. When the Italian Republic was formed in 1946, Sicily became one of five autonomous regions with home rule and exemptions from certain national legislation.
Records are a bit murky, but as the island was making its way from feudalism to capitalism and land was being redistributed from the wealthy to the peasants in the 1800s, land disputes and thefts were abundant. Those people who had stuff hired former thieves and formed “armed companies” to go after the poor people who were stealing their stuff. Historians believe the armed companies were the basis of the Cosa Nostra or the Mafia, which, although diminished these days, still plagues the island and its 5 million inhabitants.
Wine is another matter. The Pozzi family has been in the wine business for four generations and have built their business by purchasing wines from the best producers. A few years ago, the family formed a partnership with a new importer in this country and developed a wine sold under the Pozzi name for sale in the U.S., the company’s website says.
Villa Pozzi Nero D’Avola is a smooth and full-bodied wine that you can almost chew. Its flavors are chocolatey and pruney, and it has a slight tannic finish, which makes it better paired with food. The winemaker suggests hearty stews and roasted lamb or beef.
Because sardines and spicy foods are popular fare in Sicily, I had the wine with wood-smoked, wild kippers on crackers with sriracha mayonnaise. The match was perfect, although my companions expressed a certain amount of revulsion.
Villa Pozzi Nero D’Avola is widely available in the Pioneer Valley. If you can’t find it, ask your wine store to order it. It’s worth the trouble.•
Suggestions for wines in the $10 range are always appreciated.
Warren Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.