Nero Oro Nero d’Avola Appassimento, DOC Sicilia, 2017
Nero Oro comes from the Feudo di Santa Tresa estate in Sicily, in collaboration with a company called The Wine People. It’s intriguing in several ways, and not just because of the taste.
Firstly, it’s 100% Nero d’Avola, a grape indigenous to Sicily and one of it’s best varieties. Since the 1990’s, it has become Sicily’s most important red grape. You’ll find it in blends or, as in this example, as a monovarietal wine.
Then it’s also an Appassimento. This centuries-old winemaking technique is widespread with white and red grapes. Either the grapes are left on the vine until they raisin or more commonly, they are air-dried after picking. It concentrates the grapes sugar, so raising the potential alcohol. Acidity also increases, and drying also transforms other substances. The result is a more complex, stronger wine.
In Italy, perhaps the most famous examples are the Amarone and Recioto of the Veneto. However, you’ll find the technique used to create many others. Notably the Sforzato wines from Lombardy’s Valtellina and Sagrantino from Umbria. The result can be sweet or dry. If most of the sugar is fermented, then it will be a dry wine, though sometimes with eye-popping alcohol.
However, the creation of dry-style appassimento Nero d’Avola is more unusual. It’s similar to other modern appassimento wines like Puglian Primitivo. These were created to capitalise on the rising demand for big red “Amarone-style wines” at far friendlier prices.
These Nero d’Avola grapes grow on the southern Sicilian coast, at Agrigento and Belice. Those locations are higher up with cooling sea breezes. Hence some Nero d’Avola from these areas can occasionally be a little unripe and astringent. Well, appassimento and destemming the grapes prevents this.
Thirdly, both the marketing and packaging target Millennials. No-one seems to be able to provide a wholly satisfactory definition of this demographic. In fact, they are a diverse bunch. However, Millennials are social-media hungry, tech-savvy, and are now starting to settle down. They also make up the most extensive section of the work-force, replacing Baby Boomers (and now Gen X’ers like me).
Indeed, the packaging is quirky and stylish, eschewing cork for screwcap, using gold foil for recognition. It favours simplicity by relegating most of the dull legalese to a back label. The vineyards are certified organic, but you won’t find that because it’s not trying to appeal with those credentials. Instead, it’s for sharing on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Probably most importantly, this wine delivers excellent value for money and is easily found.
The alcohol level is 14%. I imagine that the grapes were probably picked at around 12% before drying commenced. That means too that while it’s powerful, it isn’t the monstrous 16-17% of some appassimento wines. Instead, it’s still drinkable and is without overt alcoholic heat. It’s well-made and retains its varietal and Sicilian character.
I found Nero Oro to have a satisfyingly glossy texture, soft and approachable, and with layered dark fruits. Think damsons and black cherry. A final raisiny edge gives away the appassimento method. It’s not overly aromatic, but what there is has an attractive cherry note. There’s balanced acidity and sugar too, which makes it easy to drink. While it’s in a dry style, there’s no missing the sweetness from residual sugar. However, it finishes cleanly and without cloying.
It’s deliberately made for enjoyable drinking straight after purchase, without any need to keep. Indeed, I doubt it will develop further though it’ll easily last for a couple of years or so.
Now, I’ve already said that I’m no Millennial. So I tried a bottle out with a small group of them that usually buy supermarket fare. They liked the packaging and were wowed by the contents, especially at this price. All of them took pictures with their smartphones and shared on social media, instantly spreading the word. It’s a crowd-pleaser and none the worse for that.
I wish this kind of wine had been around back when I was their age. If you’re getting into wine, then this is one place to start. It could spark a lifelong interest.
Being a Gen X, these days this is an ideal Friday-night wine for me, one for relaxing with at home. Food isn’t an essential companion for Nero Oro. However, I’d be more than happy to match it with a barbecue in summer or a hearty stew in winter. For something Sicilian then Arancini do the trick, as would Pasta’ncasciata.
Meanwhile, I enjoyed another bottle on a Friday night, slumped in the armchair. A plate of various blue cheeses worked, combining the saltiness of the cheese and the sweet fruit of the wine. Regardless, I recommend drinking it while binge-watching Inspector Montalbano. I think he would approve.
Majestic £8.99 (mixed 6) or £9.99 single bottle
Update, March 2019: The Majestic website crashed after huge demand when Nero Oro was recommended on the Saturday Kitchen TV show. Well, maybe just remember that you read about Nero Oro here first!!