Why Nero D’Avola is More Delicious Than You Think

When it comes to Sicilian red wines, you must mention Nero D’Avola. It is one of Italy’s most widespread varieties, with quite a vast history and made in several winemaking styles. Nero D’Avola hasn’t had the best reputation over the years. As Sicily’s most planted grape variety, its volume can mislead many to believe that this red isn’t something to seek out. That’s one hundred percent not true.

There is so much to know and love about Nero D’Avola. All it takes is knowing how to navigate this versatile Sicilian wine. And, we’re here to help!

Let’s Discover All You Need to Know About Nero D’Avola

What is Nero D’Avola?

Nero D’Avola is a red wine grape hailing from Sicily, also known as Calabrese. It produces wines of various styles, yet its vigorous bunches can easily yield big, bold, and alcoholic wines, which it was once known for in the past.

Sicily Map

Is it Nero D’Avola or Calabrese?

So, you may be wondering - what’s the difference between Nero D’Avola and Calabrese? There isn't one. They are in fact the same grape.

First, Nero D’Avola does not come from Calabria (although a few disagree with this statement). The name most likely has a different, more ancient origin.

It wasn’t just yesterday that Nero D’Avola was called Calabrese. This grape held this name for centuries - as far back as the 1500s when the first account of Calabrese appeared. But, that wasn’t the very beginning of Nero D’Avola. This grape came to Sicily when the Greeks arrived on the island well over 2000 years ago. How it received the name Calabrese is the next part of the story.

The two names Nero D’Avola and Calabrese are much more similar than you realize. In Sicilian dialect, Nero D’Avola is known as Calau Avulisi, which means ‘coming down from Avola’, with Avola being a small town near Ragusa. Over time, Calau Avulisi morphed into Calabrese, now one of this grape’s official names. In short, Nero D’Avola and Calabrese are interchangeable. Some places call it one or the other, and their wine labels reflect this choice.

Nero D’Avola grows all over Sicily

As you can imagine, Sicily’s most widely planted red grape is in vineyards all over the island. This isn’t a coincidence - Nero D’Avola is a highly adaptive variety that expresses a wide variety of terroirs. This means that this grape has the potential to make wines with all sorts of characters, making it an adventure to drink. You can’t ever get bored with Nero D’Avola.

Also, rumor has it that once upon a time, Nero D’Avola was imported into Bordeaux to help support wine blends after the phylloxera outbreak in late 19th-century Europe. The island of Sicily supported a huge chunk of the wine industry during this intense time.

Back to where to find Nero D’Avola, it’s important to note that - while Nero D’Avola does grow all over Sicily - it's concentrated in certain areas. You will find it mostly grown in southeastern Sicily, around Ragusa and Siracusa. In these areas, you will find the notable wines of Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, a blend of at least 60% Nero D’Avola (with the rest Frappato another indigenous Sicilian grape). Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG is also the only DOCG in Sicily, showcasing how finely Nero can dance with other varieties. Antica Tenuta di Nanfro, COS, and Arianna Occhipinti are just a few examples of producers offering impressive Cerasuolo di Vittoria wines.

Nero D’Avola also grows further in Western Sicily, in the provinces of Agrigento and Trapani. There, you will find this grape in blends and single varietal expressions.

Red grape wine

Style Influences How Nero D’Avola Tastes

For a while, Nero D’Avola’s ubiquity left it with a pretty lousy reputation. Many saw it as a big, perhaps flabby wine that can be jammy and predictable. You're probably thinking - what do you expect from a larger-bodied red wine from a hot place like Sicily?

Yet, here's the thing - Nero D’Avola adapts well to its location and blossoms when given the proper attention. When treated with care, Nero D’Avola can shine.

Such versatility makes Nero D’Avola the drink for red wine people. As a single-varietal wine, it has the potential to be a fresh rosé, an elegant medium-bodied red, or a fervently big, fleshy wine.

As mentioned before, it can also shine in blends, most notably in Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG wines (along with the wider Vittoria DOC). In this DOCG, Nero D’Avola’s dark fruit and body blend well with the more flirty and floral qualities of Frappato. You can also find single varietal expressions of Nero D’Avola under the Vittoria DOC, where Nero is often planted in the dark, sandy red soil particular to this area. The wines are usually fresh, floral, and thought-provoking.

Paolo Calì wines are a prime example, particularly Violino - this winery’s 100% percent Nero D’Avola wine. Fermented and aged only in stainless steel, this is fresh and focused on expressing terroir.

There are other Nero D’Avola’s around Sicily, of course. Many of them fall under the Nero D’Avola Sicilia DOC, a rather large denomination. But, don’t be deceived - this only means more opportunities for you to find wines you adore.

Planeta, a well-established Sicilian winery with vineyards throughout the island, finds unique ways to express Nero D’Avola. While they use the varietal in blends, their single varietal Nero D’Avola from Menfi showcases the depth of Nero D’Avola, from its brooding color to its finessed body. Similarly, Assuli - a family-run winery in Trapani - produces bold Nero D’Avola wines with power. Aged in oak, these wines offer a more robust take on the varietal, much different from their neighbors in Vittoria to the East.

Big Hammer’s Sicilian Wine Experts

Sicily is a massive wine region with tons to explore. Diving into Nero D’Avola is a pathway to exploring not only this grape’s versatility but also the uniqueness of Sicilian winemaking and terroir. Whether you’re a new wine lover or a connoisseur, our Big Hammer team is always here to support you through your Sicilian wine journey.

Specific Nero D’Avola Wines to Try

Paolo Calì Vittoria Nero D’Avola DOC Violino
Planeta Nero D’Avola Plumbago Sicilia DOC
Assuli Lorlando Nero D'Avola Doc Sicilia 2019
2015 Tasca d'Almerita 'Rosso del Conte' Contea di Sclafani
2014 Mazzei Zisola Doppiozeta Nero d'Avola Noto Sicilia

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