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Nero d’Avola: The Ghost

The Nero d’Avola varietal is virtually a viticultural unknown in the United States. Hailing from the arid, volcanic soils of Sicily (and especially the regions surrounding the unstable Mount Etna), the grape has a propensity to endure and thrive in the United States. In California, it has taken root in the Central Valley’s vast lowlands (Tracy), where it prefers the regions expansive, stable, compressed heat and then relaxes when from the mild winds that coast off of the Altamont pass. Though it isn’t featured predominantly in the legacy of varietals transported from Italy to California (like the Barbera, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Aglianico), climate change and the increasingly longer, hotter summers may increase plantings and overall presence of Sicily’s “most important grape.”

Characteristically, the richer, darker flavor (comparable to a Syrah) fares well with pastas, red meats, barbeque and similar fare. Jacuzzi vineyards in Sonoma (related to the ubiquitous Cline winery in Carneros) has produced a California Nero d’Avola, but the native wine is, at this point, is nothing more than an occasional trickle in the California wine industry. There have been signs that the grape may be sporadically planted in the Sierra Foothills AVA (particularly in the volcanic soils of Fair Play and other smaller El Dorado appellations), but at this time, that news is currently relegated to rumor and lore.