The wines of
Frank Cornelissen, Etna, Sicily
Revisiting the stunning Magma, MunJebel and Contadino wines from one
of Etna's most dedicated winegrowers
I’ve written at length about the
remarkable wines of Frank Cornelissen before
(pictured above). His first vintage on Mount Etna was 2001,
and I remember attending his first tasting in London in 2004. Here
was a great chance to catch up with him as he enters his second
decade of winegrowing, and taste through a large selection of wines,
over lunch at Hibiscus restaurant in London.
2006 was a bit of a turning point for
Frank. ‘We had too many plots,’ he said. So he concentrated his
holdings, and over the following four vintages the management of the
plots was more focused. ‘After 10 years I feel we are starting
back to zero. I am now where I want to head with my wines.’ He
describes the 2010 vintage, his tenth, as like a ‘rebirth’.
’10 years have passed so fast,’ he
says. ‘By the grace of God we have survived. We now have 8 workers
and we work everything semi-manually.’ The current vineyard
holdings are 11 hectares, and production is 22 000 bottles.
The style of the wines has changed over
this decade. ‘The wines have changed not because of vinifying or
philosophy, but because of timing of bottling and accumulation of
experience,’ he states. ‘The wines will change in that respect
until I die: my goal is not to make a natural wine but a profound
wine. So things have to change.’
From the beginning, Frank’s vision was
to make the classic Etna wine: blending plots of pure Nerello
Mascalese. ‘I started out as a gardner/hobbyist, convinced in my
quest for making an absolute terroir wine,’ recalls Frank.
‘Magma equals liquid rock. This concept is still the same after 10
years. But when I started to work in the winery and vineyard full
time in 2003, I wanted to have a wine that was approachable. My
first wines were extremely intellectual. Rosso del Contadino was
born in the desperate [rainy] vintage of 2003, but I liked the idea
of a fresher wine. Today the wine is more refined, fine-tuned and
focused. Magma is still there, but is bottled a bit earlier and is
‘I feel my wines are now more
profound,’ says Frank. ‘I think I am doing vineyard work better,
and yields are even lower. So I have more land but yields are going
down.’ With 55 000 vines producing 22 000 bottles, yields are
miserly. ‘It is a bit of my craziness. I see too many grapes and
put the scissors in, so the wines tend to be concentrated, with
presence and personality.’
Frank avoids using any spraying of the
vineyards, which makes healthy ventilation critical. He works with
albarello (bush vines) trained on a stake, which is needed because
of the winds.
One significant change has been with the
amphorae that Frank is famous for using for some of his wines. These
have now been lined with epoxy resin. Frank was finding that some of
the wines were showing enhanced volatile acidity because of
bacterial problems, so since 2006 all the amphorae have been lined.
In 2004, Magma made in unlined amphorae showed a VA of 0.85. In
2005, in a lined amphora, from a hot vintage, it was 0.6.
All Frank’s wines are made from
completely destemmed grapes. He picks some grapes a week early to
make a pied a cuve (a starter fermentation) and picks the cleanest
of these. Fermentation is in either plastic tubs of 1000 litres or
amphorae (for Magma). After fermentation the wines are pressed, some
of the gross lees are settled out, and then they are left on their
fine lees for the ageing process. Nothing is added at all: not even
sulfur dioxide. These would classify as natural wines, but Frank
doesn’t use this term. But he does say that ‘naturalness is the
passage to make a territorial product.’
And the vintages? Franks blog gives a
good account of all the vintages since he started in 2001 here.
Some of the wines come in different
versions. VA stands for Vigne Alte (higher plots); VB stands for
Vigne Basse (lower plots); and there is also sometimes a ‘R’
designation. The wines don’t have vintages on the label, but I
have indicated these in brackets. This is because some are cross
Rosso del Contadino No 8 (2010)
This was from a very difficult vintage that Frank describes as
‘near to disaster’, and he lost half his crop. Sweet cherryish
nose with some complex herbiness and notes of marzipan. Taut, spicy
palate with some tannins, grainy structure and a touch of herbiness.
Lovely structure here: taut, elegant. 92/100
Rosso del Contadino No 7 (2009)
This is Frank’s best vintage so far. Lovely elegant red cherry
fruit with fine spiciness and some sappiness. The palate is vital,
lively, spicy and fresh with lovely purity and good acidity. Tannins
are grippy but not harsh. There’s an interesting earthiness on the
finish. Fantastic. 95/100
MunJebel 7 (2009/10 vintages)
Brooding cherry, herb and earth nose, with hints of wax. Fresh
cherry fruit palate is firm with nice fresh acidity. Quite pure and
fine with vitality and grippy tannins. Drying finish. A lively wine.
MunJebel 7 VA (higher plots, 2010)
Really fresh, lively nose with subtly sappy cherry fruit. Fine,
fresh and elegant. The palate is bright and fine with nice
complexity, great acidity and some grippy structure. Lively and
MunJebel No 7 10th Anniversary (2010)
This is declassified Magma. Dense, fresh and quite structured
with some earthy notes, grippy tannins and red berry and cherry
fruit. Savoury, earthy and spice with a taut personality. 93/100
Magma 5R (2006)
From an ungrafted plot at 1000 metres, from a very hot vintage.
Pale colour. Sweet, intense nose of cherry fruit. The palate is
really rich with immense concentration. Spicy, tannic, warm and
precise. Mouthfilling. Incredibly rich, with a lively spicy finish.
Frank doesn’t make the VB Magma anymore: he just uses the
highest plots. Sweet, warm, lifted nose with spice, earth and some
chocolate. The palate is dense and firm with earthy notes and drying
tannins. Grippy finish. Nicely savoury. 92/100
Fresh, quite elegant and tannic. Firm with red cherry fruits and
some earthy notes. Nice acidity and a grippy finish. Lively and
precise: a structured wine. 93/100
Magma 8VA (2009)
Cherry fruit with warm spicy notes on the nose. The palate is
warm, rich and intense with nice freshness and spiciness, along with
ripe cherry fruit and some structure, as well as a bit of grip. Nice
balance here: lovely elegance and structure. Thrilling wine. 96/100
Magma 7VA (2008)
A beautifully balanced vintage has produced a great wine.
Aromatic, fresh, elegant cherry fruit nose with some spicy framing.
On the palate it is so sweet yet fresh with nice firm, grippy
tannins. Real density of flavour and beautiful balance. 96/100
Magma 6VA (2007)
Spicy, herby, earthy, chocolatey nose with hints of treacle.
Nicely dense and sweetly fruited with real spicy intensity on the
palate. Earthy and quite grippy, showing some evolution. 93/100
MunJebel 7 Bianco (2010)
Nutty and slightly honeyed with some pear and apple notes. Fresh
and precise with good acidity. Made in a slightly oxidative style.
MunJebel 6VA Bianco (2009)
Lively, fresh, citrussy and precise with fine grapefruit notes.
Lively and intense with purity and precision. Lovely wine, with some
tannic structure, too. 94/100
earlier report on the wines of Frank Cornelissen
wines of COS, Sicily
wines of Graci, Etna
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