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One Brilliant Bottle

organic/biodynamic/natural wines in Vinland

Azienda Agricola Frank Cornelissen Contadino 5 (2007)

Italy (Sicily)

nerello mascalese (70%), several white varietals

A wine for an uncommon setting. A wine to share with adventuresome friends who appreciate diversity in the wines brought to their table.

I knew we were in for something different when I took the wine from the rack earlier in the day and eyed a distinct pinkish sediment along the length of the bottle. Or when the wine pouring into the glasses turned out to be the colour of overripe strawberries, and noticeably cloudy. I had the feeling that ‘polished’ or ‘finessed’ were not about to surface in our search for words to describe this vino, one purchased from the natural wine-loving folks at Artisan and Vine in London a couple of months ago.

Azienda Agricola Frank Cornelissen Contadino 5 (2007)

Yes, a dark strawberry red, that turns darker with time in the glass. The immediate reaction on bringing it within reach of the nose — sauerkraut juice. Yes, a pickled earthiness. Wine boundaries are expanding very quickly…

Ascend we do into uncharted territory, where grape-life is in flux, where rules have not yet evolved. There is a raw, unstructured intensity, a primal quality that most (but not all) of us find appealing. Yes, of course, there is fruit (wild cherry, wild raspberries) but seemingly a comparable number of vegetal and animal notes. Good acidity and workmanlike tannins. Rustic fruit, alive in the glass.

What the earth has offered up has been left in its basic state, left to its own devices, to develop in whatever direction comes naturally to it. And the result? I suspect we are encountering one of a series of results, that with each vintage the wine takes on a life of its own, that one year could be very different from the next. The winemaker’s aim is not consistency, rather full expression of the variables in play year to year.

Not a wine for the timid drinker. It is neither smooth, nor warm-hearted. It’s a walk into times past. Old world renewed. Old style, yet stylishly healthy and natural.  $

Frank Cornelissen works 8.5 hectares of vines in the North Valley of Mount Etna in Sicily. Belgian in background, Cornelissen came to the region of the famous volcano in 2001. He set himself on a unique path — some would say an extreme path — where nature rather than the winemaker dictates the qualities of the wine produced. No intervention, no treatments of any kind, No sulphur, no copper, no manure or compost. Wines, he would say, as nature intended.

The vines are free-standing, without wire or other supports, in what is called the “gobelet” or “bush vines” style of vine training. The estate balances the vines with olive, fruit and nut trees, as well as plantings between the vines, such as buckwheat. Bees form an integral part of the vineyard ecosystem.

Harvest is in October and November. Only heathy grapes at prime ripeness are gathered. Fermentation begins outdoors in 1000-litre polyethylene tubs, and eventually the wine is transferred to the cellar and into terracotta amphorae (or “giarre”) which have been buried to their necks in ground volcanic ash. Masceration takes place over several months, before basket-pressing removes the skin and seeds. Aging continues in the amphorae “until several full cosmic cycles have passed.” It’s another year or more before the wine is ready for its gentle transfer into see-through bottles with their see-through labels.

Here in his cellar Frank Cornelissen sits, his amphorae behind him. Transparent wine rebel? Unconventional, idiosyncratic viticulturalist? Certainly a wineman to stir things up. The wine world needs more like him.



[second and third photos by EP, fourth by ACM]














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