Frank Cornelissen is a natural wine demi-god who lives in Sicily and makes wine on Mount Etna. A small amount of his grappas were just released. All of the product for the entire world came to his New York importer, and we received the majority of it. We sat down with this producer to ask him some questions about his incredible wines and grappas.
1.) What originally attracted you to the slopes of Mount Etna?
I was attracted by the northern valley of Etna. This valley has a dry, continental micro-climate, is ventilated, has an old history of vine growing, stone walls, sandy soil structure, late-picking, snow in the winter, a high intensity of light, and is not too warm in the summer. The northern valley of Etna has everything all the great wine areas have.
2.) What is the key to making great products without intervening during the production process?
First of all, it starts with the raw material, which needs to be concentrated and perfect. The rest is a matter of experience, as all grape varietals/skins are different and need a different approach. On top of this, there are also the vintages to interpret in the correct way to express them in the best ways possible.
3.) You are famous for your non-interventionist approach to wine-making. Was the process similar for the production of these spirits?
Yes. My philosophy is based on taking the unnecessary things away and concentrating on the essentials. This means my stills are longer and slower and I tend also to keep a part of the essential oils from the seeds in my first still. The aging is also important and needs to be done in neutral containers, just like my wines.
4.) The word terroir is used more than ever these days, often times stretching the original meaning. How would you define terroir and do you feel the term/theory is applicable to spirits?
Terroir is a combination of place, climate, environment, and, last but not least, man. Without a person, there is no transformation into a cultural product with identity of place. This can also be applicable to spirits, if one wants to achieve this goal. I feel that wine is a better expression of terroir, as it is directly related to the juice of the grapes and not distilled from a “waste product,” which is a step farther away from its essence.
5.) What is your favorite way to enjoy these grappas?
On cold winter evenings or after a “serious” meal, without music. No noise. Absolute silence!
Munjebel Rosso #9 VA, Cornelissen, NV
The VA, or Vigne Alte, refers to the high altitude at which the field blend for this red wine grows. Though a blend, this wine is dominated by the fresh and clean Nerello Mascalese, with notes of raspberry, fresh flowers, bright cherry, and consistent tannins. This is 2012 through and through, warm and full, and was fermented and matured in Frank’s signature amphorae. A grand step beyond a simple vin de soif, this is best served at a cool temperature with olives and herbs d’ Provence.
Magma Rosso 9, Cornelissen, NV
The Magma vineyard sits at over 100m above sea level in the town of Solicchiata, the highest vineyard of the region. This 100% Nerello Mascalese wine has been buries in anfora for two years, longer than any of Frank Cornelissen’s other cuvées. This wine has great depth and power and is exceedingly rare. Best paired with cheeses and game birds, the Magma Rosso can also stand time in cellar.
Frank Cornelissen Contadino Grappa (375ml)
Made from the skins and pips of grapes that go into the Contadino cuvée, this spirit is pure and delicate, with a floral nose and a nearly overwhelming bouquet of rose petals, magnolia, cherry blossom, and green grape juice. The palate is satiny, with notes of honeysuckle, vanilla, coconut, and almonds. Perfect as a conclusion to any rich, full-flavored meal.
Frank Cornelissen Munjebel Grappa (375ml)
More traditional than the Contadino grappa, the Munjebel is made from Nerello Mascalese. This grappa shows morning dew, dragon fruit, candied melon, and clove on the nose, while stone fruits and fresh-run juice flow from the palate. A satisfying end to a meal, true, but also good without any food at all. This is a grappa meant for sipping.