Expressing The Truth Behind the Varietal

From the south I chose to wax on wax off about the Nero d’Avola. Five years ago Sicily was not even close to being seen as a legit wine-producing region. That’s not to say nobody in the region was making good wine it just means the good stuff was few and far between. The bulk of Sicilian wine history is in the industrialized mass production of wine that was solely meant as a blending agent in northern Italian wines to soften the edges. It is said that to this day this still occurs but it is not often spoken of. And it doesn’t matter for the association of Marsala cooking wine and Sicily is long gone. Where not eve six years ago the island was all alone in the Mediterranean with no wine clout today the awards are being won in spades.
Of course all the improvements didn’t happen in the course of five or six years it started a decade or so ago. By the end of the eighties things weren’t looking very good for Sicilian wine culture. The approaches to vine growing and wine making were rooted in mass production and this was all they had to offer. There were too many hectares under vine and the vines being allowed to grow like bushes and the growers were not maintaining the delicate balance of ripening and climate. This resulted in insipid unremarkable wine that was impossible export with the competition from the north.
Things started to get better in the 1990’s with the reduction of earth under vine and the attention to detail in the trellising system. The bush growth approach was either abandoned by some or improved by others with the help of wine experts from the North. By the 2000’s Sicily was ready to come onto the American market and do it’s dance around the wine lists of States. Here in New York Nero d’Avola, Sicily’s most important grape has slowly crept into our vocabulary. It went from some weird, obscure wine found on the bottom shelf of wine shops and in the back of wine lists to a well known and well received wine that can have amazing quality. Wine is very popular these days and Nero d’Avola is enjoying the spotlight with other formerly ignored varieties like Mencia from Spain and Touriga Nacional from Portugal.
For me there are two schools of Nero d’Avola. There is the everyday lean, mild Nero with spicy fruit sitting on top of a subtle tannin structure (this is the version we were all introduced to in the early 2000’s where it was mindlessly poured by the glass at Italian restaurants and these new things at the time called wine bars) and there is the polished, modern style with gripping tannins intertwined throughout the body of the wine muting the spice a bit and giving the wine a international flare (these are the Nero d’Avola that we started to see as the wine gained popularity and started showing up not on the top shelves of wine shops yet but on the somewhat high-end sections of wine lists).
Then there is the wine I would like to talk about today. This producer in my opinion has created a third category to the Nero d’Avola legacy that I believe is the future of Sicilian wine and the way more producers from the region should approach their wine. Ladies and Gentlemen may I introduce you to Casa Vinicola Firriato; or just Firrato, as we know it here at Alphabet City Wine Co. and at In Vino. Firriato is a wine firm located in the Trapani province of Sicily on the northwestern part of the island. The vineyards, like most wine growing areas in Sicily, are found half way between the coast and the arid mid section of the island. This is were the vines get the best of both worlds; they get decent but not too much rain and have cool nights to control ripening. The soil is mainly clay and sand with, I’m sure, a little bit of that volcanic soil coming from the east. This is a nice medium mixture for a complex wine. And Firriato achieves this with their Nero d’Avola. They have a long line of wines with Nero running through all the way to their high end but I want to talk about their entry level. Entry level just means a producer’s most value priced wine and does not by any means (at least for this producer) refer to the degradation of quality.
Firrato’s entry level Nero d’Avola is a wine called Chiaramonte, which I believe, is named after the twelfth century Sicilian noble family descended from King Charlemagne. We have had this wine for a few years now and it is drinking better than ever. We have the 2005 vintage. Allow me to pause of a breath…I love this wine. I love this producer. We sell this bottle at the shop and we also pour it at In Vino and it is one of our most popular wines in both arenas. The wine speaks for itself in volumes but let me try to put it into words. The two schools I had talked about earlier one being the lean spice and the other being the masked power have no business at Firriato. They, as I said before, have created their own category. They brace the line between traditional and modern. They know how to capture the true nature and characteristics of the wine while allowing it to play with the modern nuances just enough to compliment its personality. Drinking this wine we can see and taste the future of Sicilian wine making. Don’t get me wrong there are other producers on the island doing the good work of balance and restraint but this one just happens to be my fave.
From the presentation of the label to the focus of the juice inside the bottle Chiaramonte is one of the best expressions of Nero d’Avola on the market. The color of the wine is a dark purple that shines when poured with the light reflecting in deep hues. In the glass the wine swirls well, not clinging too much to the walls of the glass despite its dark color (the key to this is the vibrant natural acidity of the grape that helps break through any heavy or weighty characteristics). The nose of this wine is what you should expect from Nero d’Avola filling your senses with sweet plum spice and a bit of cassis with a hint of chocolate as it opens. The palate is deep, dark fruit with soft, sweet tannins that mingle with plum spice are which is given vibrancy by the plentiful natural acidity. This wine will go great with food like lamb or steak or even antipasti or some mixed marinated olives and cheese. Please come grab this beauty or pick up the February Italian Starter for $99 and for an extra $25 we will throw in six label removers and a sexy little journal to take down notes in so you can come in and rap with us about what you thought.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Marco on February 7, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    Very good post and an excellent vino rosso. I like your description of their style.


  2. Posted by EVWG on February 8, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    Thanks for the comment? It’s nice to hear that I am able to give the wine the respect it deserves.



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