Tasted at The Real Wine Fair – COS

Returning readers may remember that I listed the COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2008 in my most interesting wines of 2011 listing. Giusto Occhipinti was at The Real Wine Fair with a range of the COS portfolio including the Pithos wines which are fully fermented and aged in terracotta amphorae sourced from Spain. Most of the vinification of other wines takes place using cement vats although some oak is used. COS work without chemicals in the vineyard and always use natural yeasts. Sulphur dioxide, although added to all the wines, is kept to a minimum.

Pithos Bianco 2010 (100% Grecanico) – Skin contact for 6 months and fermented/aged in amphorae. Quite nice but didn’t really excite me. Need to try again I think.

Pithos Rosso 2010 (40% Frappato, 60% Nero d’Avola) – Another wine with lengthy skin contact and fully fermented and aged in amphorae. According to the COS website, Pithos Rosso has only 1g/hl of SO2 added before bottling. Medium bodied, fresh flowers with hints of Mediterranean herbs, red berry fruit and that characteristic ferrous / volcanic rock aroma that I’ve come to associate with many wines from Sicily. Good acidity, some fine-grained tannins with average length.

Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2009 (40% Frappato, 60% Nero d’Avola) – Made in somewhat of a more conventional manner than the Pithos Rosso and if comparing the two directly, I think it’s the better for it. It’s difficult to compare across vintages but the Cerasuolo di Vittoria was more vibrant than the Pithos in almost every aspect. As a result, the savoury, wild herbs were more pronounced on the nose, the crunchy, lively red berry fruit was more intense on the palate and the finish was longer. Very moreish in an unconventional way.

Frappato 2011 (100% Frappato) – Light to medium bodied with juicy cranberry, cherry and pomegranate fruits – a quaffer.

Nero di Lupo 2010 (100% Nero d’Avola) – Another quaffer but this time wilder, darker and more savoury than the Frappato. Heady aromas of iron and scorched earth. Yum.

Contrada Labirinto 2007 (100% Nero d’ Avola) – A very grown-up wine. Brooding tarry fruit on the sweet and savoury nose. Has spent some time on French oak. The medium/full-bodied palate revealed concentrated blackberry, forest fruits and wild herbs. Medium tannin and good length. Quite different to the other wines.

I like almost everything about COS. I like story of how three college friends set up the company. I think the retro bottles are really cool but most of all, I just really like the wines. I must confess though that I left the COS table ever so slightly disappointed. I really wanted to be blown away by the Pithos wines and return home extolling the virtues of the winemaking methods employed, particularly the amphorae, but I just wasn’t. Both Pithos wines were perfectly enjoyable, good even, but when push came to shove on the reds, I preferred the regular Cerrasuolo di Vittoria.

I’m actually reading a book on Sicilian wine at the moment (Palmento: a Sicilian Wine Odyssey) and the subject of the COS Pithos wines is discussed early on where the author recounts a meeting with a stranger in a restaurant:

“It is not meant to be drunk” he said, and then lifting a hand and twirling it above his head, he added, “Non e il vino. E la poesia” (“It’s not wine. It’s poetry”).

At the risk of being burned at the stake at the next natural wine fair I go to, I must admit to wondering – if the most alluring feature in the wine is the winemaking process, is that really enough to warrant buying it over another more conventionally made wine? Maybe in that sense COS are victims of their own talents because if they didn’t make such a great regular Cerasuolo di Vittoria, I’d likely be quite satisfied with the Pithos Rosso.

In any case, I’m certainly not yet willing to denounce the Pithos wines as a step too far in the quest for minimal intervention and traditional winemaking. When drinking COS wines at home, I find that they evolve considerably over the course of an evening so it’d be interesting, and clearly more fun, to do a full bottle parallel comparison of wines from the same vintage rather than merely tasting different vintages during a busy trade tasting. In the meantime, I’ll make do with some of the other brilliant wines in the range.

COS wines are imported into Ireland by On The Grapevine and Cabot and Co. and the Cerasuolo di Vittoria is available from them and many good independents including The Corkscrew and Liston’s of Camden St.