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 an epic clash 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 experts 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 higher-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 DéClassé feature, Feudo Arancio Nero d’Avola 2014. The varietal wine’s namesake, Nero d’Avola (‘black grape of Avola’) 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 wine’s reputation of was summed up by less-discerning 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. Whereas primary fermentation is yeast converting sugar into alcohol, Malolactic fermentation sees the introduction of select bacteria to convert the tart Malic Acid found 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 possessing 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 an 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.