Frank Cornelissen, a very controversial producer from the Etna region of Siciliy. I began researching him while working with Cynthia Nicholson of The Farmhouse Table on our wine and culinary tour of Sicily last year and have been enthralled with him and his wines ever since. Luckily our friend Matt Lirette, one of our favorite local wholesalers, has shared my interest in the region and his portfolio currently offers the largest selection of Etna producers available in Louisiana.
It is difficult to describe these wines to someone who has never tasted them. Frank takes the terms "natural" and "non intervention" to a level that would frighten most producers and consumers. He feels that anytime you add something to the process, be it herbicides, oak, sulfites, you take something away from the wine. Which is why Frank avoids all possible interventions including any treatments, whether chemical, organic, or biodynamic, to keep the process in tune with nature as it was done thousands of years ago. From his vineyard practices to non-temperature controlled fermentation in plastic vats to the cellaring in clay amphorae buried into the volcanic soils of the Etna, you can't truly appreciate Frank's "hands off" approach until you've witnessed it yourself. For my full article about our visit with Frank on the Etna, you can go to my post on The Madman of Etna.
On to the Contadino 6 (meaning 6th vintage), a wine that originally was never meant to be bottled. But a vat containing the musts of grapes and stems from both his red and white wines of his different bottlings was mistakenly tasted by a group of journalist and has gone on to be one of his most popular wines. It's a field blend of mostly Nerello Mascalese but also with white varietals, Carricante, Dorato, Grecanico. The grapes, twigs and leaves are all allowed to co-mingle to create an incredible cauldron of dark orange/pink liquid that teems with tobacco, cumin, cinnamon, citrus peel and tangerine. A one of a kind beverage that is the only wine of its type in the world. This is the most sophisticated vintage yet of the Contadino, unlike anything you've ever tasted, it is very intriguing, complex and enjoyable as an actual wine, not just as a study.
However, the Contadino is not for everyone as there is nothing normal or familiar about any of Frank's wines. You have to forget everything you expect or know about how wine tastes and approach them with a truly open mind. Drinking them is an experience, and one that I promise you won't forget even if you ultimately decide they are not for you!
To experience the full potential of Frank's wines, it is important to transport and store them at a cool temperature of 58-60 degrees. Because the wine is unfiltered there is a lot of murky sediment in the bottle, so be sure to stand it upright for a few days before serving to allow the lees to settle. Since they are natural there are no sulfites or preservatives added to protect against color degradation, so if left open a few hours, you will see the color evolve from granite red to volcanic black ash!!! Don't worry, the flavors become more complex with time, as the color turns.
As you could expect, Frank does not make much wine period, so availability is limited. But his wines are truly one of a kind and if what he does sounds intriguing to you, start with the Contadino. Lirette Selections is also carrying the Munjebel Bianco and Munjabel Rosso so you will be seeing and hearing about those soon as well!
Also, the first time we drank this wine was with Cynthia during one of her visits to New Orleans to plan our trip. I made a Sicilian dinner that evening and paired the Contadino with a simple but delicious dish called Pesto Trapanese and they worked beautifully together.
Cornelissen Contadino 6, $28.99