The name Nero d’Avola comes from Calau Avulisi, meaning “coming down from Avola”, a small town near Ragusa where this grape originated. The second name it bears, Calabrese, is speculated to come from a nickname, Calavrisi, meaning “from Calabria”, but the actual birthplace is unknown.
During the twentieth century, loads of Nero d’Avola were shipped to northern regions in order to provide color and alcohol to wines which were produced in areas of less sunlight. This process halted when Nero d’Avola began to produce higher quality wines; however, the wine’s popularity backfired and quantity became the focus over quality. For this reason, Nero d’Avola wines are harder to sell in Italy today.
Nero d’Avola is the second most common cultivar in Sicily, and the seventh most common in Italy overall. Its medium-large berries thrive in warmer areas because of this variety’s ability to tolerate high saline soils and heat, while maintaining its acidity. The vines are vigorous and abundant, so they require canopy management in order to control flowering and influence yields.
Nero d’Avola is used in multiple Sicilian red blends. This variety contributes to many IGT wines, as well as DOCs including Delia Nivolelli, Contea di Sclafani, Eloro, Alcamo, Marsala and Noto. Nero d’Avola is blended with Frappato (up to 40%) to create Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, making for a perfect combination of Frappato’s light-bodied floral notes and Nero d’Avola’s richer texture and aromas. The wine ages nine months and is released in June of the next year following the harvest. The “Classico” version requires twenty-one months of aging. Its fallback appellation is Vittoria DOC, which includes white wines as well (minimum 85% Insolia).
Nero d’Avola wines are typically characterized by bright, dark red cherry and herbaceous notes, and are greatly influenced by their terroirs. For example, when produced in the higher altitudes of central Sicily, the wines are paler and more mineral than the ones from the lower altitudes and warmer areas of Sicily, which are richer and more complex.