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A More Suitable Marriage than Cab and Merlot: Nero d’Avola and Frappato

The Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot partnership is beloved by nearly every winegrowing country. Cab typically provides the structure, in terms of tannins, whereas Merlot is generally considered the juicier of the two varietals, adding silky softness and velvety fruit to the blend. Not to take any prestige away from Cab/Merlot blends, but Nero d’Avola and Frappato are a more rambunctious couple. Individually, only certain palates appreciate their character, but together they are a perfect match that everyone seems to welcome.

Nero d’Avola and Frappato call the southeastern corner of Sicily home. Together they make up what is known as Cerasuolo di Vittoria, the first and only wine of Sicily that has Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) status, the highest level of Italian wine appellations. The delightful wine is named after its remarkable color – cerasuolo – which means “cherry-like” in Sicilian dialect. Indeed, deep, intense cherry-red color emanating with pink hues speaks louder than a bouquet of red roses.

Cerasuolo di Vittoria must be made from at least 50% Nero d’Avola and 30% Frappato, with no other grape varietals allowed in the blend. Sicily’s most widely planted grape, Nero d’Avola (pictured above), much like Cab, is higher in tannins than its counterparts. Yet, Nero d’Avola is much heavier in weight and stronger in body when compared to Cab. Distinct black fruit aromas and dark coloring are referenced in the name “Black of Avola”.

Vivacious Frappato (pictured left), on the other hand, plays a similar role to that of Merlot in the blend. Although Frappato contributes little with regard to structure because of the intrinsic delicate nature of the grape, it has a lot of personality that brightens the acidity and softens the tannins of Nero d’Avola. Imagine a lightly perfumed compote of strawberry and raspberry. But it’s not all fruit. Frappato’s complexity shows by way of high acidity and greater minerality.

Given their contrasting styles, Nero d’Avola and Frappato can draw different crowds. Nero d’Avola seeks power and impact while maintaining elegance and finesse. And at times, Frappato can be the opposite of that. Put them together, and you have a versatile wine that everyone can enjoy. Medium weight, vibrant cherry fruit with supple spices, moderate tannins and lively acidity, with a long finish. Excellent for first and second courses, such as creamy soups, grilled vegetables, seasoned shellfish, chicken cutlets, etc.

Most versions of Cerasuolo di Vittoria are meant for consumption within five to seven years, although COS produces wine that can drink well for 20 plus years. COS is exceptional because of its unique process of aging – using ancient vessels modeled after pottery the ancient Greeks used. Most producers, nonetheless, use large or small oak barrels.

So what does this all mean? Are Nero d’Avola and Frappato a better blend than Cab and Merlot? No. But it’s worth considering that Nero d’Avola and Frappato need each other more than do Cab and Merlot for the average wine drinker. At least, until they get to know the grapes individually. 



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