Sicily is one of those steeped-in-history places you see on the Discovery Channel, where warring tribes battle among the decadent, carnal masses. True to their roots, Sicilians claim they inhabit the birthplace of vino, where Bacchus himself bent down and buried the seeds in the rich soil. This fertile, 10,000-square-mile island (about the size of Vermont), floating in the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and Africa, has been fought over since 500 B.C. and more often than heroin deals in the Corleone and Tattaglia families. Fractious warriors including the Greeks, Romans, Barbarians, Arabs, French, Spanish and then finally the Italians marked the Sicilian territory. Each of these thirsty cultures left its footprint on Sicilian wine making, such as the Zibibbo grape introduced by the Saracen Arabs and Primitivo (aka Zinfandel) by the Albanian refugees in the Ottoman conquest. Though probably trampled many times over during battle, those grapes still thrive today, making Sicily a bright, unique wine region.
Today, Sicily competes worldwide as one of the largest-volume wine producers. If you’ve ever ordered Chicken Marsala, you’ve tasted Sicilian wine — the sweet, fortified wine, Marsala, is its largest vinous export. Dating back to the early 1800s, it’s made from native red grapes you’ve probably never heard of, like Nero d’Avola [NAIR-oh DEE-av-oh-LA]. An up-and-coming grape on the wine geek set, Nero d’Avola has been slow to burrow into American tastes. Low prices are helping out this cause.
In an effort to win your love, the Cusumano 2010 Nero d’Avola rings in under $12 at the retail shop. It’s even sealed using the rather sexy Vino Lok system, an interesting choice by the Italians. (Read more about Vino Lok). A quintessential pizza wine, this Nero d’Avola is not particularly complex but begs to be guzzled with an Italian pie covered in spicy sausage and black olives. Fruit-forward with varietal-typical roasted plum, black cherry, tea and a smidge of tar, it sports enough acid to keep the sip interesting and low tannins to avoid offending those who prefer their wines smoother.
Sweetness: 1 out of 10
Price: $9 – $12
Occasion: Sample sent from the winery
Availability: Larger wine shops and, if you’re lucky, a high end grocery store.
Food pairing: Red-sauced pizza, Barbecue-Rubbed Pork Chops, and anything with black olives like tapenade