Instead of region hopping this week, we are going to remain in Sicily to try one of Southern Italy's most popular red grapes: Nero D'Avola. Nero D'Avola is rightly named after the region it comes from and is usually considered a bold wine with intense flavor and high alcohol content. According to Best of Sicily Magazine, the traditional method of producing Nero D'Avola resulted in a thick, syrupy- sweet wine. It remained that way from Antiquity to the 1980s when winemakers finally adopted a newer method of production and started placing the wine in cooled vats that prevented it from fermenting as quickly.
2006 Tenuta Rapitala "Nuar" Nero D'Avola/Pinot Nero (on sale at BevMo for $13.99, regularly $14.99)
The version I chose is actually a blend of Nero D'Avola and Pinot Nero -- the Italian version of Pinot Noir. I absolutely loved this wine in every respect! The two wines complemented each other nicely, as Pinots tend to be light and fruity and Nero D'Avolas -- as we discussed above -- are the very opposite; yet, blended together, they produce a balanced wine that tastes like sweet black cherries and plums.
BUT, before you open the bottle and start pouring, do note that this bottle is a 2006. Translation: it has been corked up for the past four years, which means that it either needs a decanter -- a handy little contraption that filters aged wine by separating the good stuff from the sediment that naturally builds up over time -- or, it simply needs to sit a while and breathe. Yes, breeeathe, or aerate, to use the more technical term
I actually don't own a decanter (and I'm assuming that most of my readers don't either), so I simply opened the bottle and allowed it to sit for a while before I partook of it. Plus, I sort of had to open the bottle early so that I could marinate the lamb in it the night before -- which brings me to the killer Lamb Couscous reicpe I made for my two best girlfriends! One of them was visiting from the East Coast, so I had them over for lunch during 4th of July weekend.
Did the wine pair well with the food, you ask?
Lamb Couscous With Mint Leaves and Dates
1 lb. boneless lamb sirloin, cut into bite-size pieces
1.5 cups chicken or beef broth
3/4 cup of the wine mentioned above (or basic red cooking wine)
crushed black pepper to taste
1 cup couscous
2 lemons, juiced
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and crushed black pepper to taste
large handful of Italian parsley, finely chopped
large handful of mint leaves, finely chopped
2 green onions, chopped
10 oz. Fancy Medjool Dates, pitted and sliced (refrigerator section at Trader Joe's, although you could probably get them other places)
Begin making this meal about 8-10 hours before you wish to serve it. Chop the lamb sirloin into bite-sized pieces and then toss it into a crock pot. Add the crushed black pepper, chicken broth, and red wine. Cover it, turn the crock pot on low, then let the lamb sit for a minimum of 8 hours. This will break down the tendons in the meat and help it become tender.
About 10 minutes prior to serving the dish, put one cup of water in a sauce pan and wait for it to boil. Once it does, take it off the heat and add one cup of couscous. Stir it evenly with a fork, then cover it and let it sit for 5 minutes. While it sits, use a slotted serving spoon to scoop the lamb pieces out of the crock pot and place them in a bowl. Add the green onion, mint, parsley, and dates.
After 5 minutes, uncover the couscous and add the lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. Thoroughly mix together, and then add to the lamb and date mixture. Combine all ingredients evenly, and then serve.
A few other photos, just for fun: