A Belgian transplant to the island, Frank Cornelissen arrived to start his own winery in 2001. Compared to the other forerunners of Etna Rosso Maro di Grazie of Terre Nere and Andrea Franchetti of Passopisciaro, Frank is the alternative natural wine darling of the bunch.
Perhaps it is due to the hype around natural wines these days, Frank Cornelissen Winery is also perhaps the most well known producer in all of Sicily. This is certainly helped by the glowing profile of him in noted London wine magazine, Noble Rot in Issue 11, June 2016, which is how I first learned about him before he was heartily recommend by many wine friends. His top cuvée 'MAGMA' is also amongst the most sought after wines made in the whole of Sicily bar none, with prices of the 2015 vintage fetching an astronomical sum of $1,920 HKD (~$244.63 USD) . Such is the reach and fame of this wine that I have seen it in collections surrounded by first growth and grand cru Burgundy. Not shabby, Frank.
Price and hype not withstanding, Frank Cornelissen offers an interesting and diverse range, from his 'Munjabel Bianco' (Munjabel being the old Arabic/Sicilian name for Etna) to his 'Susucaru Rosato' (fucking amazing) to of course single contrada wines to 'Magma'. Interestingly, although he has amphorae, most wines are vinified in enamel and epoxy/fiber glass tanks. The wines are not filtered and then bottled by hand.
As for the vineyard themselves, their plots of old alberello bush vines are lush, wild yet of course, well care for. They kept the parcels relatively in the shape it was bought in, so there are various olive trees and other wildflowers between and around their bushes of grapes. One thing I did notice was the prevalence of wild fires and actually saw one on the drive up to Barbabecchi, which is the contrade that gets bottled in to Magma. My visit was only on June 1, so either it was started by someone trying to clear their land (which is allowed by law up to mid June) or temperatures were that high to start a fire so early in the summer.
Funnily enough for a winery with such a prestigious top cuvée, their palmento (cellar) is inconspicuous and unfinished looking on the outside. Most of the works happens naturally indoors in the basement levels of the building but it was certainly easy to miss it being just by the main autostrada.
Interestingly enough, Frank Cornelissen Winery was the only winery that charged for their visit apart from Planeta. Although I am more than happy to fork over €20 but it is curious that this winery has reached the commercial tipping point where such a fee is necessary. As a result, perhaps due to the payment, I expected more from their PR and Hospitality manager that lead the tour, whom I found rather sarcastic, brusque and rude. The man himself I later met at the local bar (there is only one) and was kind enough to pose for a photo with me. The wines in the end do truly speak for the themselves, so what else can I say?
Munjebel Bianco 2016
This used to have extended skin contact but for the first time, they have made it in a much more cleaner style. To great affect in my point of view. This was my first Etna Bianco I have tried of local varieties and I am surprised just how complex it is with the a surprising amount of texture. It has the same flavours of Chardonnay but the brightness and freshness of aligoté, yet at the same time nothing like the others. Wonderfully unique wine.
Susucaru Rosato 2017
Definitely one of THE best rosés I've had in a long time. Though Rosé is trendy now and more people are making it than ever, it is still a mostly light, lovely but boring drink in the summer. Increasingly due to the attention it receives, the qualities of rosés has risen. Yet none so far can quite top this Susucaru Rosato 2017 – intense, bright yet satisfying with its strawberries, peaches and flint. It's hard to find anything as good beyond this.
For an entry level wine, this wine is a no brainer. Notes of chewy cranberries and light peppermint leaves. Light and refreshing, it goes down extremely easy. You cannot expect much from a wine like this but you will be pleasantly surprised the entire time. From 2017 vintage on, this will be labeled as Susucaru Rosso.
Munjebel Rosso 2016
It's a notable step up from the Contadino with extra concentration of fruit, ripeness and integration of acidity. The tannins here are bit grippier but not unpleasantly. It's a good indication of what's to come next with the contrade wines.
Munjebel Rosso CS, contrada Chiusa Spagnulo 2016
Pow! Out of the gates, the overwhelming freshness and acidity of the wine takes you away. Once you get over it, the flavours seem to grow in your mouth. Much more complex and a huge step up from the Munjabel Rosso, which is not to say that the "village" level wines are bad. However the strength of individually single vineyard bottles demonstrates the strength and the variety of the terroir. Gorgeous fresh cherries and plum.
Munjebel Rosso VA, contrada Vigne Alte 2016
In the eyes of our host at the winery, this wine was the closest to Magma. Compared to the others, it was much more complex and textured. This demonstrated the versatility of the grape, in how expressive and elegant it can be. Wonderful mixtures of ripe cherries, sweet spices and minerality.
Wines tasted via tank samples at Frank Cornelissen Winery, Sicily on June 1, 2018.
Frank Cornelissen Winery
Via Canonico Zumbo, 1 (hamlet of Passopisciaro)
IT - 95012 Castiglione di Sicilia (CT)
Etna Nord - Sicily
For visits, email them here: firstname.lastname@example.org. €20 per person.