FRANK CORNELISSEN is a force of nature.

It’s no surprise how he gravitated to work on a Volcano.
Yet he’s no vulcanologist.

A 1960’s baby boomer, from the Class of ’61, he found himself on Etna to fulfill another purpose. Here, his volcanic spirit pays homage to ‘Mama Natura’ with each and every breath. His deal is to accept whatever each natural vintage blesses him with… no more & no less. So that basically means little or no intervention.

With little or no official wine-making education behind him in 2000, he began his work from scratch.

One could liken it to the funambulist school of thought (that’s tightrope walking in fancy lingo). You see Frank’s chosen path is considered by conventional winemakers as an extremely narrow one. Maintaining balance and tension along this fine line requires no shortage of skill and courage.

The ‘former’ he learned quickly and the ‘latter’ he’s clearly always had in barrel loads…but no oak… you’ll understand :)

On a damp April evening, just off the Passopisciaro/ Solicchiata road, he kindly opened his cellar door to let us taste his Munjebel #V16 Primeurs. What we encountered was his entire contrade selection… all #9 of them! Think of a ‘Contrada’ as akin to a Single Vineyard / Cru wine! Although not all these wines can yet be referred to as ‘contrade’ [hint: due to specific Etna DOC regulatory reasoning that surely needs review], Cornelissen’s wines are all site specific. So here’s our perspective… we’re meeting a man producing 9 individual wines from 9 individual vineyard parcels on the side of an active volcano.

Understandably there’s a degree of creative tension. Afterall we’re effectively in studio with the artist while he’s musing about which of these pale ruby’s will make it into his final #V16 selection. Cool.

The native grape in the isolation booth is Nerello Mascalese

This is the dark red/violet berry who is the principal player in each and every ETNA ROSSO that you’ll ever likely allow kiss your lips.

From relative obscurity +10 years ago, it now finds itself centre stage alongside Italy’s other legendary red varieties. And for good reason too with it’s capacity to produce red wines exhibiting both grace and grandeur.

With the 2016 vintage Frank explained that he felt the time was right for him to take a closer look at each vineyard to evaluate the potential for each site to produce a pure and identifiable expression of Nerello Mascalese. And 2016 was a good to go, even great, vintage for most. Yet of course when it comes to nature there are No Guarantees. No sure things. By the by, worth noting that for each of these 9 wines, Frank prepared 9 individual “pied-de-cuve’s” …yep, that means he created his own starter batches of indigenous yeasts from small batches of ripe fruit harvested a week or so before the main harvest.

In all honesty, this level of dedication is more than WINE-MAKING…’s ART…it’s LIVING ART….and how bloody refreshing it is too!

From the Cornelissen #V16 Fountain of Youth,
we sipped the following primeur samples in order:

2016 Munjebel Rosso CA – Crasa –

Edgy acid & nervous tannin. Got a bit to go yet.

2016 Munjebel Rosso FM – Feudo di Mezzo sottana –

Likeable freshness, vibrant with a little CO2. Feel that time will bring this on nicely.

2016 Munjebel Rosso PA – Feudo di Mezzo Porcaria –

Most rounded and balanced of the first 3 samples. Sense it’s readying itself. Already feelin’ the ‘P’ for nice Potential :)

2016 Munjebel Rosso CS – Zottorinoto Chiusa Spagnolo –

Now we’re talkin’ evident structural balance and finesse. This is showing Potential+1.

2016 Munjebel Rosso MC – Monte Colla –

Most perfumed on the nose, though the tannins are still quite edgy on the palate. Potential yes, but needs to settle.

2016 Munjebel Rosso CR – Campo Re –

Again vinous youthful, though somehow these tannins seem more manageable. Some spice. A curious one. We don’t know the contrada site specifics.

2016 Munjebel Rosso VA – Vigne Alte –

Youthful fresh, a lighter expression, coming from higher ground. Assuming time assists its still nervy tannins to integrate, this could well become an elegant beauty.

2016 Munjebel Rosso SN – Sciara Nuova –

Yep, we’ve got much more going on here, good balance with bigger structure. Potential+1

2016 MAGMA Rosso – Barbabecchi –

Yeah, already working in every sense and on every level. Potential+1

Our minimalist notes are purely an early reference on structure & feel.

Let’s remember these are all tank samples, young wines produced from fruit harvested last October/November 2016. Aromas and flavours will evolve immeasurably before final bottling and release (probably mid to late 2018?) And for one, we’ll gladly wait because all these 2016’s have created significant impressions on our pleasure meter, with Zottorinotto, Barbabecchi, Sciara Nuova and Porcaria already marked extra special.

As a parting glimpse of what the future may hold in store for these youngsters, Frank kindly exposed us to his vintage 2014 MAGMA Cru…..seriously thought provoking stuff…. this wonderful wine can best be described as a single source of deep breathing, focused movement, balance and poise, …imagine…. T’ai Chi bottled…. stunningly good for your health.

Currently Etna’s lava flows are visibly licking the mountains eastern face, just above Catania.

Meanwhile back on its northern face, Cornelissen is still potently creating his own flow of ‘Hot Thoughts’. Can’t wait to see and taste what makes the final #V16 selection. Here’s hopin’ for a full house #9!
Cheers Frank… was great to hang out.

Shout out for the eruptive sounds of SPOON


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