We begin this colorful and flavorsome journey in the south, among the bushy vines of Frappato and Nero d’Avola (here called Calabrese) drawing vigor from the dusty clay soils of the Cerasuolo di Vittoria appellation. The Portelli family once had little farmhouses, or palmenti, scattered throughout these parcels before consolidating winemaking to a central facility in town. Located in an industrial area on the outskirts of Vittoria, the Portelli cantina is by no means noteworthy, but its tanks house brightly flavored elixirs of the utmost purity and freshness. Calabrese in their hands is not an inky, alcoholic bruiser, but rather a thing of ravishing delicacy, defined by mouthwatering black cherry fruit and lively acidity, that would make any red sauce blush. When Calabrese combines with Frappato, Cerasuolo is born, its vibrant perfume of violets and freshly pressed berries suggesting that beauty can be found in the most unlikely places.
Calabrese is the local name for Nero d’Avola in the Vittoria region of southern Sicily, but the vine does not originate from Calabria, and its clusters do not look like spicy sausages (a hypothesis I drew up while hungry). The name is, in fact, an Italianization of the old Sicilian calea (grape) and aulìsi (from Avola). Calabrese has made a second home for itself in the arid hills around Vittoria, displaying more graceful traits relative to the dense, tannic wines it produces closer to Avola. Portelli’s version features ravishing flavors of black cherry leading to supple, gentle tannins. Try it with Calabrese sausage for a deliciously redundant pairing.
To accompany simply prepared Mediterranean cuisine, you’ll have trouble finding better than this Sicilian charmer. Try this: cut some zucchini lengthwise into thin slices, then fry them in olive oil. Season with oregano and thyme. Layer the browned pieces in a dish; spoon tomato sauce over the top. Cover the whole with gobs of fresh mozzarella, and place your creation in the oven until the cheese is bubbling assertively. Pour a glass of this blend of Calabrese (aka Nero d’Avola) and Frappato. Its flavors perfectly echo those in the dish, while the wine’s medium weight and cleansing acid invite repeated gulping, without ever going to your head.
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