The history of wine and food throughout the Old World wine regions was much about what was produced locally. Food and wine pairing in historical eras maybe had less sophistication than what we know of today, but when we venture out to dinner today, many of us count on a clever sommelier to pair our food with the perfect wine, but in the past, the simple rule was that local food matched with local wine. Lucky for us, that same rule can still be put into practice today.
For instance, if you dig up a classic recipe of coq au vin, originally from Burgundy, you could easily assume that a bottle of Burgundian Pinot Noir will pair nicely, and you would be correct. If traveling to the northeastern side of France to Alsace, you would find plenty of German-inspired fare. The wine pairing with such foods as bratwurst, potatoes and sauerkraut is easy - opt for the local wine which also has some German influence like a semi-sweet Alsatian Riesling or Pinot Blanc. But enough about France. We are here to open your eyes to another wine pairing for something many of you might make for dinner at least once a week in your very own home, red sauce and spaghetti. What wine works with such a staple food? Enjoy your marinara and pasta with the underestimated and often unheard-of Nero d'Avola wine.
What is Nero d'Avola?
This wine is made from the Nero d'Avola grape, translated as "Black of Avola", from the small town officially named Avola, located in southeastern Sicily. The name comes from the almost black shade of the grape berries, which love dry, hot climates and can also be found in the districts of Noto and Pachino. It is the most widely planted grape in all of Sicily and until the 21st century, Nero d'Avola was only used in red wine blends. From then on, the wine was made as a 100% varietal wine and has increased in popularity for its easy-drinking style. Many people have compared it to Syrah for its deep, red fruit notes and dark, almost opaque, inky-black, cherry hue.
Nero d'Avola is a full-bodied wine, much like Cabernet Sauvignon, yet it lacks the intense tannin structure that Cab has. What makes this wine so palatable and easy-to-drink is its high acidity, similar to the acidity one would experience when eating fresh goat cheese or yogurt - this acidity mellows out tannin structure, bringing forth a fruity wine with notes of plum, dark cherries, black berries, berry preserves, mulberry and hints of warm spice.
Just the same as any other 100% varietal wine, you can expect variations depending on where the wine originates and how it is made. Other Nero d'Avola wines are oaked and can pick up notes of dark chocolate, tobacco and tar (tar nuances in wine typical of the Sicilian region comes from the use of Slovenian oak barrels.) Other wines may have notes of licorice, eucalyptus, prunes or raisins. Overall, the wine is still easily interpreted on one's palate and easily enjoyed.
Why is Nero d'Avola Designed for Red Sauces?
This question could easily be answered if we go with the general rule stated above, that local wines go with local foods. But why is that? If we're talking about fruit and vegetables of the region, they can be grown in the same climate of the local wine grapes and will have similar characteristics. These characteristics come from the soils, the climate and the overall growing season; this is what we call terroir, and just as grapes pick up notes of terroir, so does food.
Tomatoes just so happen to be one of the most symbolic and widely planted foods of Sicily, the very home of our beloved Nero d'Avola wine. Let's think about the tomato and tomato sauce for a minute. Tomatoes are meaty and they contain a lot of acidity. A traditionally-made, Sicilian marinara is made typically with fresh tomatoes that are skinned and then chopped and cooked down into a sauce with garlic, onions, celery, carrots, basil and often, whatever fish the fishermen just brought in on their boats that day and finished off with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. The sauce is not cooked and reduced for hours like many might believe, but only for about 45 minutes. This leaves the fresh taste and acidity of the tomatoes to linger.
Nero d'Avola marries quite well with this acidity in the marinara sauce and has the ability to mellow out the acidity on ones palate, thus, the fruit of the wine is complimented with the fruit characteristics of the tomato and can contrast with the other spices and vegetables added to the sauce.
In case you might be in the need of a good classic marinara, Zester Daily has a great one.
So how does one find a good Nero d'Avola?
Lucky for us, a great Nero d'Avola wine does not have to break the bank. You can find a great one for under $20 and even under $15. Look for labels with the names of Donnafugata, Planeta, Feudo Maccari and Tenuta Rapitala among others.
For you wine collectors out there, you might be pleased to know that a quality Nero d'Avola wine can keep and age for up to ten years stored in the right conditions. After all, it's the ideal wine to have on hand for the impromptu "spaghetti night". Buon appetito!