by Megan Jones

Hey there,

It’s not Megan, nor Fionn, not even Dan coming to you today. It’s Alex…

Who?? I hear you all ask in unison. Great question, everyone. You may know me as “that Australian guy who’s not Dan, who works at Ken’s”. That’s right, another bloody Aussie. There may be only 25 million of us, but at least half seem to live in London (looking at you, Clapham Junction…). Working on that reverse-colonisation strategy.

Anyway, enough about me, and where I’m from, and onto why I’m here – which is where I’ve been (still following? Extra credit). I’ve just returned from a little jaunt down to Sicilia, chasing some proper sunshine. And while I was there, I had the opportunity to pay a visit to the legendary Agricola Frank Cornelissen, in the sleepy town of Passopisciaro (also home to some legendary neighbours like I Vigneri, Tenute delle Terre Nere, Pietradolce amongst others). His winery and vineyards sit high up on the northern slopes of Mount Etna, which, for those playing at home, yes, is an active volcano. What could possibly go wrong?

Frank Cornelissen is likely familiar to most of you, given his cult status among the Etna producers – but by way of introduction for those who don’t: Frank is not Sicilian (shock, I know, Frank is such an Italian name). He originally hails from Belgium, but has been doing his thing on the Northern slopes of Etna for about 25 years. And his thing is producing idiosyncratic, top-tier wines, that purely express the land they are from. He farms regeneratively, organically, but he’s most adamant, NOT biodynamically. As he says, biodynamics is “good for soil that is in poor health” – but the soil on Etna, with its volcanic vitality, is anything but. Regardless, he uses minimal treatments in the vineyard, and also in the winery. There is also not a barrel to be seen in the winery, instead Frank opts for fibreglass for both fermentation and aging, not to mask any of the fruit purity.

After I rattled up the hill on an old service railway called the Circumetnea, that I was certain I would have to get out and push at some point (can recommend, most especially cause they never got around to charging me a fare, as the driver was far more intent on chatting up the girls in the front row – which come to think of it, is probably why the train is in such disrepair, anywho), I arrived at Cornelissen. They showed me the amazingly steep terraced vineyards, with their 100 year old untrained (goblet/bush-vine) Nerello Mascalese vines, planted in super free-draining volcanic soils. Not a vineyard I’ll be volunteering to do vintage at any time soon, but a vineyard I’m only too happy to volunteer to taste from. And taste we did, peeking at the 2021 Contradas which are about to be released, and 2022 that were just going into bottle – both looking incredibly sharp.

While we haven’t yet got our mits on the new releases, we’ve still got some older vintages kicking around the warehouse that you better beat me to. Starting with this, Frank’s entry level, from a blend of vineyards, with average vine age of 50+ years. This is made to a house-style, walking the line of fruit ripeness and structure. It’s still got some Nerello density, which is especially true of the 2020’s (and 2021s, as a little preview), but a nice aromatic lift brings the freshness as well.

Moving up a gear, we also have some of Frank’s Contrada wines (single-plot), with MC, PA, CR and FM all from 2018. My picks would be the PA (Porcaria), for its altitude-derived energy and drive. And the MC (Monte Colla), for its sheer power and complexity. But whichever you’re buying, it’s a bit of a ride, so strap in. We’ve also got his cult rosato and skinsy bottlings kicking about, if you wanna really taste the rainbow.

That’s all from me. Let’s be honest, I really just wanted to tell everyone I’d spent a week in the Sicilian sunshine, and needed a forum. But hey, subtlety’s never been the strong-suit for us of an antipodean persuasion.

Catch you behind the bar. Come to Ken’s and say g’day (I’m a cliché, so sue me).

Lots of love,