Tasted at RAW – Azienda Agricola Frank Cornelissen

East London still remains the only place where a coiffed twenty-something dressed in a vintage three piece tweed suit, sporting a faux election rosette in some sort of ironic protest against the political classes, has scoffed loudly at me for wearing a blazer and jeans in a pub. Not that such ridicule isn’t constant mind you, it’s just that those dispensing the abuse toward me and my sartorial conservatism aren’t usually festooned with a fake election rosette you see. To me, in terms of style and outlook, East London and the Brick Lane hinterland is quite extrovert, curious and…well …strange. It was fitting then that it was in East London, at RAW, that I encountered the wines of Azienda Agricola Frank Cornelissen.

Etna (I forgot to take a photo of the wines!)

I had just finished tasting through my list of pre-targeted wineries and was trying to decide what to taste next when I saw the bottle of what turned out to be Rosso del Contadino No.4 2006 from Etna, Sicily, glistening out of corner of my eye. Although visually unappealing with its hazy, dusky pink colour, clear glass bottle and Japanese font labelling, I took a sniff. The aromas that erupted out of the glass left me totally taken aback. Based on its appearance alone, I had expected the wine to be dormant, flat, insipid and lifeless – this was amazingly active, fresh and vibrant.

I’m very rarely lost for words when it comes to wine but I’ve really struggled to package my impressions for this wine coherently, so here are some of the thoughts I jotted down while at the tasting – strange, very intense, sweet fruit, strawberry, raspberry, hint of orange/citrus, savoury herbs, white pepper, pickled ginger?!?!, very earthy, volcanic, good acidity, medium fine tannin, whooah – a really spicy kick, goes on forever, most interesting wine of the day, where can I get more?

According to the winery website Frank and his team “choose to concentrate on observing and learning the movements of Mother Earth in her various energetic and cosmic passages and prefer to follow her indications as to what to do”. They “avoid any sort of intervention on the land, including any treatments, whether chemical, organic, or biodynamic, as these are all a mere reflection of the inability of man to accept nature as she is and will be”.

So…I hope that’s as clear as unfiltered wine to everyone then.

Of course this approach means there is no sulphur dioxide added to the wines. Grapes are fermented and aged in 400 litre terracotta giarre (amphorae) buried up to the neck in volcanic rock. Maceration periods are long and the skins, seeds and nascent wine remain unseparated until basket pressing. Further maturation takes place in terracotta.

For of all the wines I tasted at the Old Truman Brewery, none could be considered more extrovert, strange and curious than those from Frank Cornelissen. It would be remiss of me to give the impression that I enjoyed all of the wines in the portfolio – I actually found some of them not to be to my liking at all. Despite being one of the cheapest of the bunch, the Rosso del Contadino No.4 2006 (predominantly Nerello Mascalese) elicited an unmatched, and quite unexpected, sensory experience and on that basis alone was streets ahead of the others in my opinion.

Sadly, to the best of my knowledge, it’s not available in Ireland at the moment.

(Image Credit: Wikipedia – Josep Renalias)

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