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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So look out for a bottle of Munjebel.