also known as Calabrese) is the most important and widely planted red wine grape variety in Sicily. 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.
Translated, Nero d’Avola means “Black of Avola”, a reference to the grape’s distinctive dark coloring, but its exact origins are the subject of debate. The region of Calabriacan 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 the name 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 and exhibits many similar characteristics. 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 cooler temperatures restrict the alcohol levels.
is one of the world’s great fortified wines, made exclusively in and around the town of that name, in the far west of Sicily, southern Italy. Like some of its fortified counterparts from other parts of Europe, Marsala has seen a significant slump in popularity and sales over the past few decades, although there are efforts underway to re-establish its once-gleaming profile.
The Marsala wine style is generally accepted to have been created by English wine merchant John Woodhouse, who specialized in Port, Sherry and Madeira distribution and came to Marsala in 1770. The wine quickly gained a strong reputation in the British market and great volumes of the wine were made. In the original Marsala DOC laws the conditions placed on the production (disciplinare di produzione) of Marsala wines were very relaxed, allowing excessively high yields. To make matters worse, at that time the Italian government was actively encouraging wine producers to increase their crop yields. Government subsidies helped vineyard owners convert from the traditional goblet (bush-shaped) method of vine training to the more productive guyot (cane-pruning) and tendone (pergola) methods. It was tempting to capitalize on this change by using irrigation to swell the new crops to bumper proportion; few producers resisted, and many even dropped the traditional Marsala grape varieties Grillo and Inzolia in favor of the more prolific Catarratto (still the most widely planted variety in Sicily). This led not only to even more fruit being gleaned from each vine, but also a flavor change in the base wine into which it was made. The overall result was that year on year, vast amounts of low-quality Marsala were generated, low in natural sugars and typically in need of sweeteners such as cane sugar, which further reduced the unique character of the wines. An alternative to using raw cane sugar was to use artificial flavorings such as coffee and chocolate, which entirely disguised whatever natural character the wine may have had left. This essentially destroyed Marsala’s image as a product of quality and a fine wine in its own right, and condemned it to years in the dark recesses of kitchen cupboards. This is changing, but very slowly. Modern Marsala can be made from any one of ten grape varieties, including the traditional Grillo and Inzolia and the modern, mass-planted Catarratto (Catarratto Bianco Comune and Catarratto Bianco Lucido included). Other grapes are the Sicilian specialties Pignatello, Nerello Mascalese and Damaschino and the only variety on the list to be grown outside Sicily, Nero d’Avola. The latter, along with Pignatello and Nerello Mascalese, provide color in the red-hued Rubino Marsala wines, which must be made from at least 70% of these varieties. There are five ageing-related categories for the wines: fine (one year),superiore (two years), superiore riserva (four years), vergine/soleras (five years), and finally vergine/solera stravecchio (ten years).
Passito di Pantelleria
is an Italian DOC for Moscato wines made from dried grapes grown in Italy’s most southerly territory, the island of Pantelleria. Situated just 70km from the north-east coast of Tunisia, this volcanic island lies at a latitude of 36 degrees north and is home to some of Europe’s most southerly vineyards;
Zibibbo is a wine produced in the Sicilian island of Pantelleria. Ancient Arab settlers brought the aromatic grape, also called zibibbo (“zibib” is Arabic for “grape”) to the island, and this precursor to Marsala has been made there for centuries. The grapes, which are similar in aromatics to Muscat, are left on the vine till they partially ferment in the sun as they raisinate. The resulting wine, also known as Bianco di Pantelleria, has characteristics of fortified wines, but without the addition of brandy, and with lower alcohol. It is straw yellow to amber in color, and managing to be both dry and somewhat sweet at the same time).