Shaped like an inverted triangle, the island of Sicily occupies a strategic position
in the maritime laneways of the Mediterranean Sea, and so was targeted for
conquest by many empires throughout the ages: Greek, Byzantine, and Norman.
During the 2nd and 3rd centuries BCE, it was a buffer, then launch point in the epic
struggle between Rome’s navies and those of its arch-adversary across the sea
to the south, Carthage. Though firmly a part of the modern Italian patchwork, its
dynamic history and a diversity of influences have fostered a distinct culture; still
thriving in a breezy and dry climate overtop a sun-drenched land that grapevines
also love. As a result, Sicilians have always produced far more wine than could
be consumed locally, prompting them to become expert in the export trade; first
in clay Amphorae, then in large Fiascos (Straw-wrapped glass vessels), and to
this day – in ships laden with caseloads of bottles!
Blessed with a wide range of indigenous, high-yielding grape varieties, generating
large volumes of wine has never been a struggle; the objective of fashioning high
quality grades has seen a lot of vacillation. In Sicily’s newest age of wine-making,
the current generation has astutely settled on refining native grape stock and
related finishing styles; rightfully offering their regionally distinctive, world-class
wines at attractive and accessible price points. In the accomplished mid-range,
you’ll find this week’s DéClassé feature, Feudo Arancio Nero d’Avola 2014. The
varietal wines namesake, Nero d’Avola (‘Avola’s black grape’) has its roots in the
southeastern village of Avola where it was developed as a highly localized cultivar.
Gradually it spread across the island and found its way into the western corner
and the Sambuca di Sicilia DOC vineyards. In the 20th century, the reputation of
Nero d’Avola was summed up by French vintners (who used it as an inexpensive
bulk import) as ‘le vin médecine’ — having the desirable characteristics to bolster
the colour/body of lightweight partners in blended wine, while still being neutral
enough not to overshadow them. In the 21st century, again astutely, it’s rich and
fruity charms are being celebrated and allowed to shine on their own.
Beyond the complex achievement of bringing into the winery a mature harvest of
the best grapes that the climate, the land, and its local stewards are capable of,
other critical determinants between outputting so-called ‘bulk wine’ vs. ones of a
more premium quality — is the amount of time, attention to detail, and additional
steps that the winemaker is willing to exercise in the production process. One of
those added steps is Malolactic Fermentation. Whereby primary fermentation is
the action of yeasts converting sugar into alcohol, Malolactic fermentation sees
the introduction of select bacteria that convert the tart Malic Acid in grape juice
into softer Lactic Acid. Depending on the innate nature of the source grapes and
the age of the vines, this often-finicky production step can have a pronounced
impact on the wine’s balance; translating into a more rounded mouth-feel and
expanding the sensory perception of the wine’s complexity. In white wine, it also
yields buttery aromas/flavours; in overly fruity red wines, it makes them less so.
In the case of this bottling, I’ll speculate that the compensation is necessary due
to the fruit being drawn from somewhat younger vines. Regardless of the exact
motivation, this Nero d’Avola has reaped the benefits: it’s nicely rounded; it’s soft
while still having an identifiable character; it’s surprisingly layered; it’s $14.95!
FEUDO ARANCIO NERO D’AVOLA 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #412668 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
Sugar Content Descriptor: D
Made in Sicily, Italy
By: Cantine Mezzacorona
Release Date: September 17, 2016
This is a medium-bodied, concentrated wine with pomegranate, strawberry and
currant aromas and flavours, accented by some nutty notes. As apéritif, it pairs
well with smoked cheeses, Prosciutto and Bruschetta or with mains of grilled
lamb and fresh pea Risotto, eggplant with capers and olives or veal rolls stuffed
with pine nuts and raisins.