The Wine: Munjebel Rosso VA 2016
Red natural wine from Sicily made from Nerello Mascalese grapes by legendary natural winemaker Frank Cornelissen.
The Producer: Frank Cornelissen
Frank Cornelissen is one of the most famous natural winemakers in the world, consistently making incredible wines in Sicily, near Mount Etna, from mostly Nerello Mascalese Sicilian Native varietal. Below he the man himself defines his estate and approach to farming.
Our farm and vineyards are located in Sicily, in the Northern valley of the active volcano Etna. The northern valley is considered today Etna’s top area for single-vineyard (contrada) red wines like the “Côtes-de-Nuits” in Burgundy or Piemonte’s “Barolo” area. The surface area of our estate is approximately 24 hectares, of which 13ha are old vines in the classic free standing alberello training system (Gobelet or bush-vine), 9ha of old vines transformed into modern rows with various width, approximately 2ha of olive growth and the remainder are fruit trees, vegetables and bush.
Although Etna has a tradition in high density plantation of vines, we search to reduce monoculture and have interplanted various local fruit varieties and keep bees to regain a complex ecosystem. The new vineyards are planted without grafts, using a selection of our original, ungrafted vines. The training system used is the alberello. Buckwheat is used for rebalancing soils low on organic material without recourse to industrial compost, especially important when preparing land for a new vineyard plantation.
We avoid soil-tilling as much as possible, although this depends on the vintage and the quantity of water over the winter (recovering of the vines after the production cycle). Our goal is to avoid all treatments whatsoever in the vineyard, orchard and surroundings, in which we succeeded even in difficult vintages such as 2004 and 2005. Unfortunately there will always be the vintages where treatments with copper sulphate and sulphur are necessary to avoid vines from dying like 2013 and 2015.
The Region: Sicily
Sicily is Italy’s biggest island and also its biggest region. It’s separated from the mainland by the Strait of Messina (Stretto di Messina). The capital of Sicily is Palermo, a majestically decadent multicultural city offering one of the richest culinary traditions in Italy.
Sicily’s history and culture are fascinating, to say the least. Their complexity is manifest in the diverse architecture of its cities. All over the region and particularly in Palermo we can find Arab, Greek, Roman, and Spanish influences in the layout of the city as well as in the food and local language.
Sicily is the third biggest producing country in Italy, behind Veneto and Tuscany. The quality of Sicilian wines has increased steadily in the past 30 years. Some international grape varietals - mainly chardonnay and syrah - have found a place in Sicilian viticulture, traditionally dominated by native varietals such as Nero d’Avola, Catarratto, Grillo, and Inzolia.
The Terroir of Sicily
Sicily proximity to Northern Africa and position right at the center of the Mediterranean reflect deeply on its climate. Endless sunshine, moderate rainfalls, and good aeration characterize pretty much the whole region with minor seasonal variations. Palm trees and other tropical plants and fruits are a fairly common sight in Sicily all year round.
Among the several benefits of this climate one stands out: in Sicily, grapes can grow without being imperiled by mildew, rot, or any other disease brought by too much humidity. Sicilian grapes are generally speaking naturally healthy, hence the substantial number of certified organic or biodynamic wineries.
The Red Wines of Sicily
The most widely planted red grape varietal in Sicily is Nero d'Avola, which accounts for about 20% of the total regional wine production. Frappato is another prominent red varietal, used to make the only DOCG wine in Sicily, Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG.
Less common but typical of Sicily are Alicante, similar to Grenache, Nocera, and Perrone, often blended with Nero d'Avola. On the slopes of the active volcano Mount Etna, Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio are key red grape varietals in the popular Etna DOC appellation.
The White Wines of Sicily
Marsala and Passito di Pantelleria are perhaps the most famous Sicilian white wines, although their popularity has been waning over the years in favor of dry and refreshing white wines made from native varietals Inzolia and Grillo are fairly easy to find in the United States and generally very good.
In a similar way to Umbria, the Central Italian region known for the red tannic wine Sagrantino di Montefalco, Chardonnay has found its place also in Sicily. Chardonnay from Sicily can vary in quality depending on the producer.
On Primal Wine we sell one of the few 100% Chardonnay vinified with extended skin-contact in the style of an Orange Wine made by the excellent Marabino winery from organically farmed grapes.