Monday, January 13, 2014

Learning About Wines with Nero D'Avola

Last year at the New York City Wine and Food Festival, we were reminded that we still don't know a lot about Italian wines. Even when we focus on New World wines, we tend to focus on France and other regions that grow the varietals we've come to know and love. Italian wines seem, well, Greek to us. So for the New Year, we made a resolution to try to learn a bit more about Italian wines.

To help in our education, we ventured to Union Square Wines in Manhattan. With a series of excited recommendations from their staff, we selected 12 bottles to round out a case of wine, all the while making plans for how we wanted to explore them. We had a lot of ground to cover: Italy has a tremendous wine industry, and we selected a bunch of different wines to kick off this exploration. We decided to at least start by comparing two wines, the same varietal from the same region.

Two bottles of Nero D'Avola from Sicili, what could we learn? Both were fruity, with cherry flavors similar to Pinot Noir. One was a deep color, almost purple, while the other was so light that it was almost transparent. Both wines had a bitter, earthy edge, like a hint of unsweetened baking cocoa. One lost some of that bitterness as it opened up, while the other seemed to intensify. The lighter wine seemed a bit more drinkable, while the heavier wine had some aggressive alcohol that gave a bit of a punch.

The similarities might give us a general idea about Nero D'Avola, but a sample size of two isn't really enough to go on. Yet, the differences that give us a chance to learn. Other than different winemakers, the only difference was the vintage and a higher alcohol content in one, so we had a ton of questions (and thankfully the internet could provide answers to some):
-Was the harvest one year warmer, leading to riper grapes?
 -The 2011 season was warm throughout the year.
 -2012 was another warm year, with some late rains that helped the harvest.
-Why the higher alcohol content?
-Does one of the vineyards have older vines?
 -The vineyards for the lighter wine are young.
-How long do the winemakers let their wines age in the barrel before bottling?
 -The lighter wine was aged in steel barrels for 6 months.
 -The heavier wine was aged for 8 months in cement vats with a glass lining.

There is still a lot for us to learn, obviously, but for now we know that we enjoyed these two wines in different ways and for different reasons.

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