Nero d'Avola - pronounced 'Neh-roe Dah-voe-lah' and translated 'The black (grape) of Avola' in Italian - thought to be the most important red wine grape variety in Sicily, and is one of Italy's most important indigenous varieties. It is named after Avola, a small town in the far south of Sicily.
Until the 1980s, commercial use of Nero d'Avola was dedicated almost exclusively to fortifying weaker reds in northern Italy and even in France - to add colour and weight to lighter reds, prompting some French producers to nickname it 'le vin medecine'.
In the past Nero d'Avola, like other Sicilian reds, was often syrupy, with an alcohol content reaching 18% - too strong as table wines, but very suited to make Marsala.
New viticulture techniques and night harvesting - placing the grapes in cooled vats to prevent premature fermentation have been used to retain flavour without producing an overpowering wine. The result is often compared to Syrah, made in the 'New World'.
Boasting a singular climate, Sicily is blessed with consistent growing seasons, typified by lots of warm sunshine and very little rain. Vintage quality varies, of course, but not as much as it does in Piedmont or Burgundy.
In Sicily, Nero d'Avola is also called 'Calabrese', - which is likely to be an 'Italianization' of ancient vernacular name of Nero d'Avola, being 'Calaurisi,' which literally means 'coming from Avola'. As recently as the 1980s, plantings of Nero d'Avola declined in Sicily as many growers switched to international varieties thought more commercial. But now Nero d'Avola is coming back as the native grape earns a growing reputation in its own right, making wines from 100% of the variety rather than blended.
The vine likes hot arid climates, these grapes make a rich, perfumed and velvety red wine that's easy to drink, works well in blends with other grapes, and can benefit from the careful use of oak, and able to age for quite a few years, although most are good drinking upon release.