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A Beautiful Breakdown of Nero d’Avola Wine

Learn the taste, styles and food pairings with Nero d’Avola courtesy of pages 144–145 of Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine.

If you love full-bodied dry reds like Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah then Nero d’Avola (“nair-oh davo-la”) is your buddy. This lesser known Sicilian grape variety has finally become known as a “serious” wine.

Guide to Nero d’Avola Wine

Its resurrection has a few producers to thank (among them are Planeta, COS, Curto and Donnafugata) who have made several jaw-dropping single varietal Nero d’Avola wines since the late 1990’s. What is awesome about this grape is that even though the wines get high ratings, most can be purchased for under $20.

Nero d’Avola Taste


  • Fruit:

    Nero D’Avola is known for its superbly bold fruit-driven flavors that range from black cherry to prune.

  • Body:

    Nero d’Avola is one of the full-bodied wines of the world in the same boldness as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, and Syrah.

  • Tannin:

    The tannin in Nero d’Avola is high, but not as high as wines like Barolo or Petite Sirah.

  • Acidity:

    Acidity in wine ranges from the tartness of a lemon to the creaminess of greek yogurt. With Nero d’Avola you can expect moderately high acidity, but not so tart that the wine tastes overly spicy.

  • Alcohol:

    Alcohol level not only determines the level of booziness but also greatly affects the wine’s body. Nero d’Avola typically range from 13.5%–14.5% ABV, which would put them exactly in the “Medium Plus” category–pretty bold!

By the way, the flavors shown above are organized based on where the flavor comes from. There are 3 categories of aromas that contain nearly all wine flavors.

  1. Primary flavors come from the grape variety itself
  2. Secondary flavors come from winemaking and fermentation
  3. Tertiary flavors come from aging (most typically from oak barrels or oxidation)

Food Pairing with Nero d’Avola

a beautiful bowl of oxtail soup. by Shazanah Hassan

hello umami burger. by Richard

With its bold fruit flavors, robust tannin and acidity, Nero d’Avola is a great wine to match with rich meaty meats. Some classic pairings include oxtail soup and beef stew, but you could easily swap BBQ burgers with bacon and everyone will think you’re a genius. The gamier the meat the better because it will simply make your wine taste more fruity and candy-like.

Some spices that will pair very well with Nero d’Avola (that you might not have considered) include anise, orange rind, bay leaf, sage, cocoa powder, asian plum sauce, and coffee.

If you’re a vegetarian, whip out your black lentils and shitakes and make some beef-less magic.

Serving & Storing Nero d’Avola


  • Glass: Oversized. A large red wine glass that can collect aromas and has ample room to swirl (to reduce any harshness from tannins).
  • Serving Temp: Room (60–68 ºF / 16–20 ºC)
  • Aging: Most Nero d’Avola wine will age confidently for 10 years
  • Cost for Quality: $15–20 (US)

Where Nero d’Avola grows

A view looking down on to Lake Arancio at Cantina Ulmo (a Planeta winery), in Western Sicily.

Nero d’Avola is an arid climate variety capable of being dry-farmed, and it loves the heat. In Sicily, many of the oldest Nero d’Avola vineyards are Alberello pruned or “head-trained” close to the ground so that they are resistant to high winds. Nearly all the Nero d’Avola comes from Sicily, but there are a few pioneering producers, such as John Chiarito who dry-farms Nero d’Avola in Mendocino, CA and a few folks in McLaren Vale, South Australia who love the stuff due to its outstanding arid climate characteristics.

Last word on Nero

If you try several different Sicilian Nero d’Avola winemakers, you’ll start to notice that there are 2 winemaking ideologies in play. One is a more fruit-forward, opulent and black-fruit driven style that offers up coffee and chocolate flavors from aging in oak barrels. The other style is much leaner and more elegant with zippy red cherry fruit flavors, herbal notes and very little oak aging (if any at all). It’s up to you which style you like, and make sure to pay attention to these types of descriptions to find your style.

Tell us about an awesome Nero you’ve had.


Wine Folly Book

If you like this article, definitely get the book. It features 55 wines, 19 wine maps, and a wine fundamentals section that will make you better at wine. Published by Avery books.

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  • Read up on vine training Arberello-style in Sicily - The World of Sicilian Wine by Bill Nesto and Frances Di Savino on Google Books
  • Images from Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack
  • Information about Nero d'Avola parentage from Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, José Vouillamoz and Julia Harding
  • Article covering on the 2 styles of Nero D'Avola (and honing in on one) from New York Times (January 2015)

About Madeline Puckette

James Beard award winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year. I co-founded Wine Folly to help people learn about wine. @WineFolly

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