Tuesday, 5 January 2010


Even if I am walking through one of the most spectacular cities in the Western world (Keats, the Spanish Steps, Pantheon, St Peter's for a quick chat with a priest, then looping round via Piazza del Popolo) the weather is fairly depressing and my feet hurt. It is enough for one morning.

My brother Ben and I have decided, on recommendation, to lunch at Gusto in Piazza Augusto Imperator. Gusto is more than a restaurant, created about eleven years ago it houses a bar, restaurant, pizzeria, wine shop, book and kitchen shop, all in one (www.gusto.it ), and worth the detour.

While he is on the beer, I have ordered a glass of the Nero d’Avola, Tenuta di Serramarocco, Sicily, 2005 (at €7 a glass - www.serramarrocco.com ) to go with my pizza.

Admiring the vibrant red colour; a rich and bloody red, purple-blue in colour, with coloured legs and a wide rim, I greedily dive in, anticipating the warmth of the spice that comes with this grape (and the prickle that compliments the chilli in the soon-to-arrive pizza).

It is dull outside, but I am transported to warm summers of hazy sunshine, dragon flies and slow moving rivers, as the scented smack of fruit hits me on the nose. Strong raspberry scents, with a creamy smoothness, pepper and wood from barrel aging, and hints of mint. This is summer pudding! Full of sweet perfumed red berry fruits with vanilla notes coming through. Should my glass be lined with bread (just checking)?

On the mouth, there are more fruits, dark, rich berry fruits coming through; there is the cassis of black current pastilles, all concentrated and mouth watering, and liquorice; creaminess tempers the acidity of the fruits, and spices give the prickle that hints at the warmer climate of Sicily, pepper prickles that Nero d’Avola is well known for; and finally, there are smooth tannins giving the length of flavour that keeps the mouth watering.

This has such a good finish that it holds its own, even with the strong chilli spiciness of the crisp Siciliana pizza, hand made in the kitchens behind me, and the bold taste of ozone and sea of the fresh anchovies (doubly lovely for me as Ben hates them).

(I thought I had already blogged on Nero d’Avola but can’t find anything, so here is the ‘science’ bit). Nero d’Avola is known in Sicily as calabrese which suggests origins in Calabria, it ages well in a barrel and is favoured for its reliable longevity, giving wines a great richness, texture, and depth of flavour in addition to complex aromas.

Although Avola itself is in the south eastern part of Sicily, near Siracusa, this particular vineyard is situated near Trapani and Palermo, in other words, the other side of Sicily. The grapes for this wine were grown on a mix of calcerous and clay based soils (the latter keeping the roots cooler and allowing a fuller maturing process), before spending one year in old French oak barrels (rather than Italian chestnut barrels which was more traditional until recently) to add the pepper and spice, and then six months in the bottle.

Sitting and admiring its colour and aromas again, the overall flavours and scents change only slightly still retaining that liquorice and raspberry that came to the front before. This wine really is full of Sicilian punch, and slightly unusual bearing in mind I was expecting a rather more raisin and stewy-fruited flavour to go with the prickle.

Stuffed but refreshed, I should burn lunch off walking the other hills of Rome, but may just manage a short up hill climb to the Tempietto.