Top picks from Sicily’s wealth of wonderful wines

Italian island has a treasure trove of indigenous grapes, including a few of real interest

John Wilson: On these cold evenings, the warmer style of Nero d’Avola would make a great partner for a warming stew, pasta with a rich ragù, or bean casseroles.

John Wilson: On these cold evenings, the warmer style of Nero d’Avola would make a great partner for a warming stew, pasta with a rich ragù, or bean casseroles.

 

Although it sometimes remains below our radar, Sicily vies with Puglia to be the biggest producer of wine in Italy. The island has a lot going for it. It is generally warm and sunny, with perfect conditions for ripening grapes (30 per cent of viticulture is organic), but with plenty of cooler regions close to the Mediterranean or at higher altitudes.

While a number of international grape varieties are grown, some of them very successfully, Sicily also has a treasure trove of indigenous grapes, including a few of real interest. 

The red and white wines of Mount Etna have rightly been garnering huge praise, as has the red wine of Cerasuolo di Vittoria, but Sicily has plenty more to offer. The most widely planted black grape is Nero d’Avola, an ancient variety whose origins were shrouded in mystery until recently. It turns out that it is a distant relative of the Tuscan variety Sangiovese and the Calabrian group known as Calabresi. 

Nero d’Avola can change style depending on local climate and soil. Made from grapes grown on warmer sites, the wines can be heady and powerful, full of ripe fruit and often with plenty of tannin too. However, those grown on cooler sites tend to be lighter and can show real elegance and finesse. 

Last autumn, I tasted a range of 50 Sicilian Nero d’Avola ,covering all price levels. The majority were decent, well-made wines. Among them lurked a few real gems, evidence that this grape variety can produce very high-quality wines. Happily, some of those are available here in Ireland, including the Donnafugata and Tasca d’Almerita featured here.

Both of these family-run producers have several estates in different parts of Sicily, including vineyards on smaller islands off the Sicilian coast. Donnafugata is an estate run by the Rallo family. It is probably best-known for Ben Ryé, a unique dessert wine produced on the island of Pantelleria. However, all the wines are well worth trying, including the Sherazade featured here.

Tasca d’Amerita, one of the leading Sicilian producers, has been owned by the Tasca family for eight generations. Led by the thoughtful Alberto Tasca, it is responsible for a range of excellent wines including the Riserva del Conti, Sicily’s first single vineyard wine.

The other two producers are less well-known but certainly offer value. As well as the wines below, 64wine in Glasthule has the meaty, supple Conte di Matàrocco Nero d’Avola at a very well-priced €11.75. Two of the wines are organic. The other two producers have been leading proponents of sustainability in Sicily 

On these cold evenings, the warmer style of Nero d’Avola would make a great partner for a warming stew, pasta with a rich ragù, or bean casseroles. I would try the lighter styles with pork, or maybe chicken.  

Nostru Nero d’Avola 2020, IGT Sicilia, organic, no added sulphur
14%, €16.95

Medium-bodied with intense delectable swarthy dark fruits and a light tannins to provide grip. Try it with an Irish stew or a vegetarian cassoulet.
From: O’Briens, obrienswine.ie 

Nero d’Avola 2019, Tenuta La Favorita, Sicilia, Organic
13%, €19.95
 
A very gluggable medium-bodied with fresh dark fruits, some Mediterranean herbs and a nice tannic kick on the finish. With pasta based tomato dishes or pork chops with herbs. 
From: Lilith Wines, D07; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, D2, Kells, Co Meath, Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com; The Fumbally, D8; the fumbally.ie; Eleven Deli, Greystones, Killiney, elevendeli.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; SIYPS.ie; Nellys, D9, nellysdublin.com; Opera, Wicklow, operawicklow.ie

Sherazade Nero d’Avola 2020, Donnafugata, Sicilia
13%, €23.99
 
A lighter, very seductive style of Nero d’Avola with delightful supple fresh dark cherry fruits, and a twist of black pepper. With lamb cutlets or a tomato-based pasta dish. 
From: 64wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Avoca, Ballsbridge & Rathcoole, avoca.com; Drinkstore, D7, drinkstore.ie; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; elywinebar.ie; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; McHughs, D5, mchughs.ie; The Corkscrew, D2, thecorkscrew.ie

Nero d’Avola 2017, Tenuta Regaleali, Sicilia
13%, €25/€27

A delicious fresh fruit-filled Nero d’Avola with supple dark cherries and blackberries and a touch of spice. A great all-rounder to go with most red or white meats. If you are feeling flush, the 2017 Lamùri (€33/€35) from the same sources, is wonderful.
From: Benito’s, Dalkey, benitos.ie and That’s Amore, Monkstown, Co Dublin, thatsamoremonkstown.ie

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