Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Couple of Nero d'Avola Wines


I have been drinking quite a few Italian wines lately, not because they are necessarily my preference, but because my wife, Denise, really loves them. Don't get me wrong - I really love me some good ol' Italian varietals. I just prefer exploring the wines of California more than any other area.

I hate to drink alone, however, and if the wife has an Italian wine open, that's okay by me.

It's possible the reason she's so drawn to Italian wines is because it's in her blood. Her family tree has roots in Sicily. And she does seem more drawn to Sicilian wine than the other regions of Italy. Whatever the reason, when we can enjoy a glass of wine together, it's a good thing.

I can compare two wines made from Sicily's most important red wine grape, Nero d'Avola. From the southern town of Avola, this grape was long used primarily as a blending grape. Since the 1980s, though, it has stood very well on its own. The characteristics a Nero d'Avola shows are somewhat akin to those of a new world Syrah, so this would seem to be a nice varietal for a California wine guy like me.

First, a bottle from home, then a restaurant selection.

Ruggero di Tasso Archeo Nero d'Avola 2007 - True to its reputation, I found Syrah-like pepper on the nose and palate with ripe berries in the forefront. A vegetal note also came into play that I found intriguing. The texture is smooth, but the medium mouthfeel left me wanting something a little more substantial. There's a decent amount of acidity and it would probably fare well with a nice pasta dish or some Italian sausage. The finish is not too dramatic. It's serviceable enough, and I think it usually sells for under $10, so expectations shouldn't be too high.

The restaurant selection came at Il Buco on Robertson in Beverly Hills, a favorite of ours. The wine was Cataldo Nero d'Avola 2006. If the Tasso didn't quite satisfy my new world taste, the Cataldo certainly didn't. A big, fruity nose with blackberries, plum and pepper came off as perfumy - even my wife wrinkled her nose a bit. There was a vegetal note on the back end in this wine as well, but it served more as a curiosity than anything else.

The wine had good color, but unfortunately I found the taste not so much "medium" as "thin and watery." It was not my style, although its fruitiness and freshness would no doubt be attractive to some. It was a very lightweight entry.

Neither of these wines held too much interest for me. They were both drinkable - the Tasso more than the Cataldo - but ultimately I like a little more body in a wine.