If Salvo Foti and Ciro Biondi thoroughly tell the story of Etna's past, then Belgium-born Frank Cornelissen illustrates the adventurous spirit of Etna's future. Cornelissen has been producing wine on Etna's highest elevation, north-facing vineyards since 2001. His style has changed quite a lot over the years, but he's perhaps recognized most for his insistence on a zero sulphur approach in the cellar. His name can be a lightning rod in the world of wine, and certainly in Sicily. After years of changing small details in the cellar his wines today are cleaner and more composed than ever before. This is the wild side of Mt. Etna.
Cornelissen grew up in a family surrounded by wine in Belgium where his father worked as a wine broker. His studies created an intense fascination for the volcanic terroir on Mt. Etna's north side. He believed fervently there was a unique voice here, and he had his own plan for the story he wanted to tell of this place.
He set his eyes on working strictly with old vines, 40-years of age being about the minimum under his estate. The process started with only 1.5 hectares in 2001 and now has grown to 12 hectares, with vines going back to plantings from 1910.
Everything that's exceptional and intriguing about the Cornelissen wines exists in the vineyard. These are some of the most awe-inspiring parcels I've ever set foot on. Walking among the 100+ year-old Nerello Mascalese vines tied to the local chestnut alberello stakes was a dramatic experience, faced out from these terraces seeing the valley below with towering mountains in the distance. The black sandy volcanic soils that falls through your hand immediately draws to mind the power of this active volcano beneath your very feet.
Frank's work in the cellar is something that needs very little time to detail here. He has moved away from amphora, and oak is never used. All wine are aged in fiberglass-lined tanks. His interests are in expressing Etna without any intervention from materials outside the vineyard. The tanks are completely inert, serving only as a safe vessel for aging. There's zero sulphur added to the wines at any point. This regimen requires the winery to be a extremely clean from top to bottom and every detail of work here is done with the most scrupulous eye. It was evident the second we walked in that this was a very different kind of cellar.
The non-sulphur regimen brings a vividness and bright, fresh quality to the fruit profile that stands out immediately. The minerality from this singular soil is certainly obvious, but the dynamic personality of the fruit makes itself known first. I personally find that non-sulphured wines, when executed the very best, have a pickled fruit quality that offers an abundance of concentrated spice that's rare in more conventional wines. This quality can be divisive in some circles of drinkers, but I find it to be fascinating and met with clean winemaking it really pulls me in each sip.
Frank's rosé is made in minuscule quantities. It has a darker hue and richer texture than most rosés, with tell-tale spice from the portion of Nerello Mascalese in the blend.
Contadino is a prefect introduction to the style of his Nerello Mascalese-dominant wines. Spicy and very lifted in 2015.
Munjebel is composed entirely of very old-vine Nerello Mascalese, and is the wine Frank feels reflects Etna the very most, with raw power and uncompromising minerality.
Magma is his monumental expression of Etna, where vines over 100-years-old are sourced from ancient terraces. Each bottle is hand painted.
2016 Cornelissen Susucaru Rosé (July arrival)
$29 per bottle.
Rosé of Malvasia, Moscadella, Insolia, Nerello Mascalese
2016 Cornelissen Munjebel Bianco (July arrival)
$49 per bottle.
60% Grecanico Dorato and 40% Caricante, skin-contact.
2015 Cornelissen Contadino
$29 per bottle.
80% Nerello Mascalese, with Nerello Capuccio and Minella Nera, Allicante Boushet.
2015 Cornelissen Munjebel Rosso
$43 per bottle.
100% Nerello Mascalese
2014 Cornelissen Magma
$224 per bottle.
100% Nerello Mascalese