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Frank Cornelissen’s Susucaru: rosé gem from Mount Etna

by Claudio Celio

Frank Cornelissen is a Belgian native: a spare, thin man who landed on Etna in the year 2000 on his (wine) worldwide quest for the right territory – one that would inspire him and drive him to meet new challenges as a producer.

With the new millennium, true enough, came his eureka moment on Mount Etna, which two decades ago was largely unexplored, wine-wise, and thus offered amazing opportunities and a broad field of research and new potential.

Frank Cornelissen fell in love with ‘A Muntagna,’ “the Mountain,” as Sicilians call it, and with Mount Etna’s favorite child: Nerello Mascalese, the native grape that finds its ideal home on the volcano’s slopes.

He wasted no time and released his first vintage in 2001, then gradually increased acreage, which now counts approx. 12 hectares (close to 30 acres), 8.5 ha of which (21 acres) under vine. Vineyards are terraced at altitudes ranging from 650 to 980 meters (c. 2,130-3,215 feet) above sea level, entirely bush-trained and interspersed with fruit trees and wild herbs.

Frank doesn’t like to label his agriculture as “organic” or “biodynamic.” He seeks to heed and understand nature’s cycles and go along with them, adapting to nature rather than subduing it. A new plot, planted between 2003 and 2004, is actually under ungrafted vines, deriving from a few pre-Phylloxera shoots in his finest vineyard.

Today, Frank Cornelissen’s range is incredibly diversified and extremely high quality across the board, alternating wines for daily enjoyment and items for lengthy cellaring, with price points that go from €20 to nearly €200. I’ve had the opportunity of tasting Frank’s wines on a regular basis, and am a particular fan of his rosé, the truly exceptional Susucaru: a blend of Malvasia, Moscadella, Insolia and Nerello Mascalese grapes that undergoes skin maceration and malolactic fermentation, and is bottled without sulfites.

Susucaru is usually released just before the summer, an especially smart move since, served cool, this wine is absolutely irresistible, with a quaffability worthy of a refreshing beverage rather than an alcoholic one. The credit has to go to the vintner’s touch, as well as to Etna soil, which endows the wine with its juicy, crisply flavorsome zest and brio.

The 2016 is one of the finest I can recall, with an escalation of fragrant, delicately floral notes on the nose and palate finishing with a symphony-like crescendo – unbelievably well balanced and fulfilling at the same time. Try it with any summer fare that includes fish.