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Friends often ask me for advice on what wines to order when they go out to eat.
Obviously, I don't have a crystal ball and won't know what food what they’ll be ordering. But I know what they're after - some tips on wines that both taste good and are friendly on the pocket, even with restaurant mark-ups.
One of the wines I recommend time and again is Nero D’Avola, made from the grape of the same name. I’ve rarely had one from a wine list that has disappointed me.
This Sicilian red originates from the sun-baked south – east corner of the island, from a town called Avola, south of Siracusa (Syracuse).
Nero D’Avola is probably Sicily’s most famous red grape and is now planted across the island. Most major supermarkets carry wines made from it, as do many restaurants with a reasonable wine list.
But I would argue that it is still not well enough known in the UK to fetch premium prices like, say, Chianti or Barolo and therefore, restaurant mark-ups tend to be comparatively kinder.
A classic Nero D’Avola should be a deep purple colour, with flavours of black fruits such as blackberries, plums or juicy black cherries. You might also get cocoa, coffee, liquorice and maybe some wild herbs and a sprinkle of spice. Some of that sweet spice – such as vanilla - will come from the oak barrels it has been matured in.
It should feel round and juicy when you taste it - without feeling too heavy – and have a good level acidity to give it some zip.
Like hot climate Syrah (or Shiraz), tannins in this grape can be moderate which means a) it is easier to sip without food and b) it goes with wide variety of dishes, including a Sicilian-style gutsy, marinated, grilled tuna steak. It may feel too big to drink in the blazing sun, but is perfect for a cooler, starry Sicilian night. Next time you are on one of Flavours' cooking courses in Sicily, be sure to have a taste and pair this with your dinner.
It can be a bit sweet and jammy (depending on who has made it of course) – which is more common in the lower-priced versions. Some wine purists may throw their hands up in horror. But let’s get some perspective. We’re not talking about a complicated or cerebral wine here – though at the higher end you will get some complexity. We’re talking about something that is easy to drink, will go with a lot of different foods, and appeal to many different palates.
If you cannot find Nero D’Avola on a restaurant list as a varietal (i.e. made 100%, or as near as, from a single grape) then you might find it blended with other red grapes. The most notable is Frappato, a light-bodied red indigenous grape, to make Cerasuolo di Vittoria. This adds perkiness to Nero D’Avola, along with summer fruit flavours such as red cherries and strawberries. However, my advice is to stick to one that has 70% Nero D’Avola if you want to retain the voluptuous characteristics of this genial grape.
Paola is a London-based wine blogger who also runs a communications consultancy. She trained as a journalist, working for Sky News, GMTV and BBC radio amongst others before jumping ship into PR and internal communications for major global companies. Starting her own business has given her the flexibility to indulge in her passion for wine and how it’s made.