Yesterday’s lunch was special. It was a chance to catch up with Frank Cornelissen (above), a winegrower from Sicily’s Mount Etna, over lunch at Hibiscus.
Frank works as naturally as possible, without using any chemicals in the vineyard – not even the sulfur and copper used by biodynamic and organic growers – and he doesn’t add anything in the winery. But he isn’t part of the natural wine movement. ‘Naturalness is the passage to make a territorial product,’ he says. That is, he’s not natural for the sake of it, but because he believes that working this way will produce the most authentic expressions of the terroirs he works.
I’ll be doing a full write-up soon, but the condensed version is that in the decade that he has been working in Etna, Frank’s wines have changed. They’re now purer and less crazy, and probably a little more conventional. And, if anything, they are better for it. ’10 years have passed so fast,’ he says, describing his new direction as ‘like a rebirth’.
Highlights? I just loved the Rosso del Contadino No. 7, from the 2009 vintage, which Frank describes as his best yet. It’s a fresh, vital, cherry-scented red of real profundity, yet this is the entry level wine in the range. Munjebel No 6 Rosso and No 5 Rosso were also thrilling wines, with life, elegance, texture and structure.
A real highlight was the Munjebel Rosso 7VA, where ‘VA’ stands not for volatile acidity but for Vigne Alte (high plots). It’s incredibly fresh and lively with finesse and elegance.
Of the Magmas, the top of the range, we were lucky enough to try 6. Of these Magma 8VA (2009 vintage) and Magma 7VA (2008 vintage) were thrilling bottles: the peers of any of the world’s great wines. I don’t care how they are made: these are just fantastic, serious wines. They are expensive, but so are most of their peer group!
The food at Hibiscus was really creative. Pictured above is the main dish of wood pigeon served with a pastilla and onion and almond puree topped with pistaccio. Below is a fine cream tart of white asparagus with some candied black olives (sweet, but with a savoury dimension) and vanilla ice cream.