Archives for April, 2013

Cornelissen wine: heart of Etna mascalese

On entering the cantina at Frank Cornelissen in Solicchiata (CT) there is a big feeling of anticipation. I have drunk the wines for years but never visited the place of their conception.

Now is the moment. Frank is very easy on the explanation. First point to understand that Etna is a sloping vineyard expanse shaped by its eruptions, so the soil type is basalt, or weathered lava rock, immensely deep and free draining.

Spotless ageing area for amphorae

Spotless ageing area for amphorae

At this property, all the carefully hand-selected grapes from vineyards higher up the mountain are processed in one tonne fermenters, with individual management. After pressing they are matured in ampho

rae-in a beautifully-prepared amphorae room where one spies a spotless storage facility.

Now let’s be real. These odd-shaped wine containers, usually about 400 litre capacity, are difficult to manage, clean, fill etc. So Frank has set his up in an easily-established mezzanine floor to view, taste, sample and work around. It’s the sort of place which feels good, and one expects some pretty clean looking wines as result. This place ticks.

What will the style be? Unwooded red wines from the ancient vineyards up the Etna slopes, there for decades, and made from the inhabitants-nerello mascalese and to a lesser extent, nerello capuccio (Cornelissen uses very little capuccio). Pale coloured yet voluminous, apparently light in the mouth yet they build as you swallow and de-bunk that thought. They are just plain serious Etna DOC, naturally-made, wines of origin reflecting a unique terroir.

Frank offered a selection of his 2011 harvest sampled from the amphorae. A very good year on Etna, late though, finishing at the end of October.

Check out the limpid colour-amphorae tasting

Munjebel Rosso 8 Classico 2011 (8th edition of this wine); is a blend of 2010 and 2011 (16% of the older year passed over the younger, and pressed); AUD 45  ; 16%; 100% mascalese; a wine of mild density but volumes of black fruit aroma, fresh and heady, fruit passion generated while aging in such a pristine environ; palate restrained then mouth sweet from fruit+alcohol, not hot; long savoury tannins which are bitters-sweet as in morello cherry; yummy with mature salumi. Vineyards supplying: Porcaria, Marchesa Soprana, Verzella, Chiusa Spagola and Monte Colla.

I retasted this wine again five months late, again in Sicily, in a mascalese brand assessment tasting, finding the wine even more ethereal. The wine simply smells heavenly, then there is the long, slow building palate of black fruits and dancing flavours from the elegance.

Munjebel Rosso 8

The Cornelissen reds get more exciting as we go up the brand chain-into single vineyard wines, or just plain special places.

I was very stoked by the Munjabel Rosso 8 VA (Vigne Alta) 2011, AUD 55; 15.6%; a “high vines” blend of two high elevation contrada-Barbabecchi (910 m) and Guardiola (850m); nose intensity shows up the floral notes of mascalese from altitude, herbs, mint, spice, powdery tannins; so there is plenty to think about.

Barbabecchi vineyard-910 metres; centurion vines

Munjebel Rosso 8 MC 2011 (8th edition of this wine); AUD 55  ; 17%; 100% mascalese planted ungrafted in 1948 (780 m) single vineyard wine; comes from a non-lava rock vineyard, sandy-clay topsoils which do not mute the perfume, but give a different palate, much more tannin and brilliant reds in the colour. Also tasted a second time in Sicily, in late October.

Spring scene-Frank Cornelissen in his Barbabecchi vineyard

There was no tasting of Magma Rosso IGT ; usually a super single vineyard selection (USD 200), assuming that a wine was not made or not declared from the 2011 vintage. Yet reading afterwards, the 9th edition from this vintage has since been released from the Barbabecchi vineyard. Magma is the molten volcanic material thrown out by Etna in its periodic eruptions, one is happening currently on a minor scale.

Top wine of the house-single vineyard selection

So look out for a bottle of Munjebel.

Amphora-aged COS wine: new or ancient

There is something simply amazing to view a winery making its top wines in a series of earthenware jars.

Is there shock-horror? Yes for a technocrat trained on the finer points of grades of stainless steel.

But no for someone on a path of discovery to understand just what the practitioners do when there is a choice to return to the roots of winemaking practice.

And the use of clay pots has been a natural winemaking event year-on-year in Georgia for as far back as 6000 years BC.

Recently a colleague advised me that a 2012 trip to this old world winemaking country included a visit to a monastery using the clay pot containers continuously for 1000 years (a lot of vintages there to build up tartrate!)

So I was recently on the path of discovery in Sicily to visit two famous properties using earthenware jars for winemaking and aging (COS in Vittoria) and Cornelissen (on Etna) who ages new wine similarly.

There is a space in between with the technology path-that of using oak barrels as storage vessels, and over the past decade used, large (3-5,000 litre) format casks have proved to be valuable aging means for high quality wines.

Casks displaced earthenware vessels as they were more practical. However keeping large casks fresh and clean is a never-ending job, and at times capable of going wrong (cask has to be burnt).

Also the cask remains practical for making larger volumes of wine, while re-introducing the clay pot makes sense for small parcel winemaking as pot management is a lot simpler than in the 15th century.

Making and aging wine in clay pots is essentially the production of wine un-oaked; so the revered barrel used in some winemaking societies, goes out the door!

However, this is a more natural process because the oak tannin taken from a barrel is replaced by natural tannins extracted by weeks, and even months of allowing the wine to macerate with skin and seed, not rushed and of course over a winter where temperatures are preserving, and anti-oxidant unwanted.

COS Rami 2010; IGT; 12% (AUD 20) is golden-yellow, orange wine; smelling of marzipan, sherry and marmalade, clearly not varietal but a product of the process; lots of lovely flavour and layers of texture/taste; full on body, not shy on dryness, though only ten days on skins, clearly high pH.

This is very plucky drink as I chewed green olives and marvelled at the after-taste of this wine. The grape blend is two-the native grapes inzolia and grecanico. Clearly no preservative added.

COS Rami 2010-400 litre amphora-made

On a return visit to COS I tasted Rami 2011; IGT, 12% (AUD 30) with a great deal of elegance in colour and nose; more elevated than 2010 but emphatically textural. Note the own-design bottle which is a copy of an ancient Sicilian wine container, commemorating the establishment of the biodynamic vineyard and business from 1980.


COS Pithos 2010; IGT; 13% (AUD 30) is not heavily coloured; just a nice cherry red hue and engaging aroma which says-have a drink; there is earth and currants, then the palate subtle, soft, long, a little chalky from six months on skins, a good result to have this tannin level for wine of such modest colour density, not too drying, just lovely. Eat with some salami and marvel at the flavour mix, chilled is better. In Roman times a Pithos was a 2-3,000 litre clay wine storage vessel. Is 60% nero d’avola, 40% frappato.

COS Pithos-engaging unwooded nero d’avola e frappato blend

The 30 hectare COS vineyard sits on the hot climate, red sand over clay soils of the Vittoria plain.


COS vineyard-south in spring

The winery uses 140 amphorae for wine making and aging, approximately 400 litres capacity, wax-lined, manufactured in Spain, set with sea sand to make a second level floor from which to undertake cellar procedures.

COS cantina-portion of amphorae room

Stoney terroir: Usseglio in Chateauneuf

The day was cool although it was spring-meaning greenness everywhere and wide-leaved grapevines were growing rapidly. I was eager and excited to visit the historic Chateauneuf-du-Pape again, especially as a greater respect had been developed for the vine variety grenache, and here in this village appellation is one of the most notable producing regions on earth. Better still, with a healthy interest in Italian wine production also, we were to visit a Milanese family who have migrated to this part of France a long time ago, and has now woven themselves into its vineyards and wine styles-the Usseglios. The best means to understand a domaine producer is to try the entry level wines first-as the attention to detail will give many hints about what to expect. Here the first impressions were all good and there will be many wines to be enjoyed. Usseglio Cotes du Rhone 2010; 13.5%; AUD 25 is going to be one fabulous wine just by smelling it; a cracking nose of ripe berries greets the nostrils; it has lush fruits and just great intensity; drink now and drink many. I further discovered it is a grenache (80%), mourvedre (20%) blend from 65, 40 and 30 yo grenache, and 30 yo mourvedre. A humble wine made from resilient vines. This wine does not need oak aromas and that is kept away from the prying by using 2, 3 and 5 yo large barrels and some lined cement tanks. Usseglio Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2009; 15%; AUD 60 is masterful; bursting with berryfruit, tons of it; luscious, layered, filling, asking for more in the mouth, drying yes, but softly so-no aggression despite its alcohol! Then there is the 2010 of the same wine; less brutal, little earthiness showing through, very trite, firming and never to be the bruising wine of 2009.

Great Chateauneuf-du-Pape

This property’s blend of Chateauneuf  is grenache (80%), syrah (5%), mourvedre (5%) and cinsaut (5%) as the vineyards are planted.  There is no new oak used (which blesses it), 50% is in cuves (tanks), 30% in foudres (larger oak, 3-5000 litres) and 20% in barrels; oak is 1-3 years old. Usseglio Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee de mon Aieul 2009; 15.5%; AUD 99 is a special blend of older vine grenache from three vineyards; Les Serres (95 yo); La Crau (78 yo) and La Guigasse (70 yo); it means ancestors’ cuvees, extremely minty from concentration; fleshy, lots of black fruits, something I could drink all day. Also tasted was 2010-15.5%; a monster too, simply the coolest grenache I tasted all year.

A special blend-Cuvee de mon Aieul (ancestors’ drink)

Usseglio Chateauneuf-du-Papes Reserve des 2 Freres 2009; 15%; AUD 150 is a dalliance with more modern winemaking, New World style, so there is a little more new oak around; though its bigger fruit, sweet fruited palate is as one could find in Australia’s Barossa valley where juicy grenache hangs out; and in this there is a small amount of syrah; differs from the standard blends but eminently a flag bearer in a New York cafe for brothers’ wine.

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