May 28, 2024In New Releases, Wines

Frank Cornelissen 2020: New Vintage, New Hotness

Another Hot Drop from the Godfather of Natural Wines

Mt Etna, home of Frank Cornelissen wines

It’s 2024 and not only have we secured the newest vintages from the volcanic slopes of Sicily’s Mount Etna, but there’s a new hotness among them from the Godfather of Natural Wines: Frank Cornelissen’s Susucaro Rosso 2022! Produced with the same thought process and vinification techniques that’s made Frank’s other wines an organic icon of the winemaking industry, we’re very excited to introduce this new icon to the New Zealand market.

“Cornelissen is pushing toward the top of his dramatic arc, as I discovered during a recent visit with him. His wines have never been better”
– Monica Larner for Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, 2023

For anyone that’s watched The White Lotus Season 2, you’ll know how beautiful active stratovolcano Mt Etna is, and how it dominates the landscape with its ever-steaming activity. On its slopes, beneath the glow of molten rock is where you’ll find Azienda Agricola Frank Cornelissen, led by – you guessed it – Frank Cornelissen. Here, they grow grapes, olives and forage for juniper berries for winter stews (it’s like a lava-tinged Disney scene).

About Frank Cornelissen

Frank Cornelissen, Rockstar Winemaker

“One of the most significant figures in the revival of winegrowing on the slopes of Mount Etna”
– Robin Lee for The World of Fine Wine

Robin Lee sums Frank up nicely, and we’ve blogged extensively about this humble icon before, which you can read here:

But for those not wanting to go down a click rabbit-hole, let’s summarise…

When the Belgian ex-fine wine dealer came to Etna in 2001, his vision was that this is one of the few locations on Earth where wine could be made without any manipulation. He purchased old vines that had been planted during the Phylloxera crisis (which couldn’t survive in the volcanic soils here).

Mistakes were made as he learned along the way, but with time, the style of Frank Cornelissen became renowned. His hands-off approach was deemed extreme, even by his own standards and he admits that perhaps he took it a little too far sometimes. “My wines used to be anti-wines,” admits Cornelissen. His initial philosophy was never to use sulphur dioxide (SO²) in his wines. In every wine making decision, his aim was for absolute purity. His uncompromising and often extreme, (but always creative) visionary efforts to maintain the highest level of cellar hygiene without using SO² made him an idol of the natural wine world. However, over the past 22 years, trailblazing Cornelissen has needed to evolve. He has modified his thinking and methodology of this earlier philosophy.

Frank Cornelissen Vineyard

Still today, this is a winery that practises non-interventionist principles across their twenty-four hectares and eschews overhandling of the wines in the winery and cellar. However, there have been a number of changes to the process, including the fact he’s now using minimal amounts of SO² during racking and before bottling. “Quality- focused with natural being the inspiration, not the destination” explains Jancis Robinson MW.

“Frank Cornelissen is an Etna pioneer, and his contributions to the success of this special Sicilian wine region are immeasurable. His influences on Italy’s natural wine movement are equally important, and he was alone in embracing both concepts (Etna and natural wine) simultaneously. His winemaking experiments on the volcano started in 2001, and Cornelissen emerges as a major figure today”
– Monica Larner for Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, 2023

In a profile by Jancis Robinson, Cornelissen confessed that “2015 was my learning vintage that showed me the limit [of non intervention]. 2018 showed that I should have added a little SO² to 2015. 2017 was OK but 2018 really needed the SO². It was 2018 that changed my mind about SO². I’m very happy with the new technique, and 2020 is where I really want to get to. 2019 was deceptive. The fruit was very, very clean but we still needed the sorting table because there was a lot of variation. 2018 though was really difficult.” 

[Cornelissen] calls his 2019s ‘pretty’ and likens his 2019 Nerello Mascaleses to Pinot Noir whereas 2017 was more like Nebbiolo. His favourite vintages are 2011 and 2020.
– Jancis Robinson “Soldera and Cornelissen” 2022

The 2020 Vintage

Frank Cornelissen 2020 Harvest Crew, masked for COVID

“What can I say, Frank Cornelissen is at the top of his game, [] and I can honestly say that I have never seen such precision, purity, and consistency as I’ve seen tasting the last few vintages”
– Eric Guido for Vinous

Our newest shipment of Frank Cornelissen wines includes a wave of goodies from the 2020 vintage, as well as a new gem – Susucaru® Rosso – from 2022.

Every year, Frank releases a vintage report. For the 2020 wines, he’s dubbed the vintage officially ‘Great’:

“The real winter came only at the end of January but with good snow; the pruning was finished late as we had to do some corrective pruning in a new vineyard which took more time than planned.

“The rest of the season was relatively balanced and we slid into the harvest pretty smoothly, albeit with some stress for some workers concerned about getting COVID and sending the whole team in quarantine… It was very stressful to keep everybody safe and sound but we managed with lots of precautions.

“Harvest went pretty easy as the nice weather was continuing until late autumn. A nice compensation for the COVID stress!

“The reds have a nice balance and I like the structure of the wines as tannins are present and it all fits nicely.

“Magma was picked in perfect zodiac and I was really happy. The Bianco Vigne Alte will be promising.

“My preferred wine of this vintage: Susucaru® Rosato for its rich flavours and freshness combined.”

Susucaru® Rosso The New Kid on the Block

The Susucaru® wines are the entry-level range from Frank, and after the roaring success of the Rosato (which we almost have to hide from our DN staff) we’re super excited to add the Rosso to the lineup.

2022 Frank Cornelissen Susucaru Rosso

The 2022 Susucaru Rosso is a field-blend of mostly Nerello Mascalese (85%) with other local varietals all the vineyards: Nerello Cappuccio, Allicante Boushet, Minnella and Uva Francesa. Susucaru® Rosso perfectly expresses Etna, as it is produced in a more traditional way, blending different contrada’s as well as different varietals to obtain a fragrant, elegant and fluid wine with structure and personality.

The name Susucaru® comes from a Sicilian expression meaning “they stole it”, which is what Frank’s crew shouted when they realised most of the grapes from their first vintage had vanished.

From Vineyards Picciolo, Malpasso, Campo Re, Crasà, Piano Daini, Feudo di Mezzo. Grapes were destemmed and lightly crushed, before fermentation with a “pied-de-cuve” using only indigenous yeasts and skin contact for about 30 days. It was aged in neutral epoxy tanks from 2500-7000 litres. No fining, and filtering occurred before bottling with cartridges of 3 micron.

Frank Cornelissen's Susucaru Rosso

The Explosive New 2020 Batch from Frank Cornelissen

2020 Frank Cornelissen MunJebel Rosso 'VA' (Vigne Alte)

A blend of ungrafted Nerello Mascalese from Cornelissen’s three highest vineyards (hence Vigne Alte or ‘Tall/High Vineyards’): Tartaraci (1000m. asl), Barbabecchi (910m. asl), Rampante soprana (870m. asl)

“The most Burgundian of all our crus.” Nerello Mascalese 100% from 90+ year old ungrafted vines. With an annual production of only 2,500 bottles. Grapes were destemmed and lightly crushed before a “pied-de-cuve” fermentation using only indigenous yeasts and skin contact for about 60 days. Aged in neutral epoxy tanks from 1500-2500 litres for 18 months and another 18 months in bottle. No fining. Filtering before bottling with PP cartridges of 5 micron.

Previous Vintages Accolades:

  • 16.5+ Points Jancis Robinson (2019)
  • 97 Points Robin Lee World of Fine Wine (2019)
  • 96 Points Decanter (2017)
  • 93 Points Robert Parker (2017)
Frank Cornelissen's Munjebel Rosso VA

2020 Frank Cornelissen MunJebel Rosso ‘MC’ (Monte Colla)

This pure Nerello Mascalese comes from contrada Monte Colla. An extremely steep and terraced vineyard, beautifully exposed to sun and wind and right in front of Mount Etna. The sandy clay soil and the old-vine Nerello Mascalese, planted in 1946, produces a rich and powerful wine, maintaining grace and elegance. Our “Hermitage” of Etna.”

“Monte Colla MC delivers punchy red fruit flavors with rose, lilac and hints of powdered licorice root. There is a subtle play of fruit versus floral intensity in this wine. The vineyards enjoy heavier soils, with clay in part, that are rich in silicon at 780 meters in elevation. The vines were planted in 1948 and 1949 with south-southwest exposures, where they get the last light of the day. These are ancient soils, and marine fossils are sometimes found on Monte Colle. Geologically speaking, this site is unique in the Etna context.”
94 Points, Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate

“Lovely cool berry, orange blossom, pumice, smoke and lava aromas, but subtle and complex. Bark and mushroom, too. Full-bodied and very structured with powerful tannins that are polished and thought-provoking. This needs time to soften. Clearly one for the cellar. Best after 2026.” 
96 Points – (8/4/23)

Frank Cornelissen's Munjebel Rosso MC

2020 Frank Cornelissen MunJebel Rosso ‘CR’ (Contrada Campo Re)

This pure Nerello Mascalese comes from a partly ungrafted vineyard ‘Campo Re’, situated at the far western side in the valley floor, at the entrance of Randazzo. The vineyard altitude is 735m. asl and is characterised by deep soil which, in humid vintages creates major difficulties to obtain ripe fruit. The wines are profound and tannic, and more Nebbiolo-ish compared to other crus.

I like the aromas of vine bark, rose stem, light parsley, and red fruits that follow through to a medium body, with white pepper and cloves with a fresh and vivid finish. Tight and tannic. Shows tightness and focus. Best after 2025 but already fascinating to taste. (8/4/23)
95 Points –

These results from 2020 show a lot of fruit character and dark cherry concentration with hints of curry leaf, mint, oregano and some of the wild herbs that grow on the volcano. The tannins are softly integrated and the acidity is bright. Mineral nuances add complexity.
92 Points – Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate

Frank Cornelissen's Munjebel Rosso CR

2020 Frank Cornelissen Magma

Magma® is Frank Cornelissen’s top cuvée, their “Grand Vin” and is produced only in great vintages where they achieve phenolic ripeness. Hailing from the Barbabecchi vineyard at 910m. asl. Planted around 1910 and North-North East exposed, capturing the first and cool morning sun rays. A profound wine, rich as well as elegant, with character, personality and great finesse. Vinification starts with a “pied-de-cuve” using only indigenous yeasts and skin contact for about 50 days before aging in neutral epoxy tanks 1500-2500 liters for 18 months and another 18 months in bottle. Annual production in the years it’s produced is around 2,000 bottles.

Bottles are hand-painted and to combat the increasing risk of counterfeit bottles, since 2016, Magma® has an NFC chip integrated into the label of each bottle which contains information regarding the authenticity of the wine.

In addition to the microchip, Magma® uses unique Ardeaseal closures on the bottles and magnums, further guaranteeing authenticity as these patented closures are manufactured in only one factory in the world.

“The Frank Cornelissen 2020 Sicilia Nerello Mascalese Vigna Barbabecchi Magma is a creative and original wine that is a lot of fun to drink and dissect. Fruit comes from a vineyard site at about 1,000 meters in elevation above the Contrada Rampante. This 2.5-hectare site was planted in 1910, and more than half of the fruit goes toward this production. The wine offers ample richness and volume with dark berry, campfire ash, grilled herb and cola.”
94 Points – Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

Previous Vintages Accolades:

  • 18 Points Jancis Robinson (2019)
  • 96 Points Robin Lee World of Fine Wine (2019)
  • 97+ Points Decanter (2019)
Frank Cornelissen's Magma

Also Still Available...

2022 Frank Cornelissen Susucaru Rosato

(Prior vintages sold out!)

Frank’s famous Malvasia, Moscadella, Insolia, and Nerello Mascalese Rosato blend – made with skin contact for texture and territorial identity, malolactic fermentation fully finished for density, fluidity and stability. A bright salmon pink. Intense perfumes of young fruits introduce sapidity and minerality. Drinking Window: 2023 – 2030

“I was privileged to taste the wine – Susucaru… bottom line is I taste this natural stuff and my eyes just lit up, some lightbulb went off and I feel like this is where the journey of life has taken me, and where I need to continue to explore.”
Action Bronson for Vice’s Munchies Series

Frank Cornelissen's Susucaru Rosato

2021 and 2019 Frank Cornelissen MunJebel Rosso

The Classic MunJebel Rosso is Frank’s vision of a traditional, balanced and rich Northern Valley Etna wine. A rich and fragrant wine of pure Nerello Mascalese from different vineyards, partly from their best parcels where we produce our crus (Zottorinoto-Chiusa Spagnolo, Feudo di Mezzo-sottana and Porcaria) as well as designated vineyards for this specific wine (Rampante Sottana, Piano Daini and Crasà).

2021: “Expressive and decidedly gentle and harmonious in the main profile, it shows notes of black plums, marjoram, lavender, hibiscus, black olives, strawberries, geraniums and white pepper. Medium body, creamy tannins of splendid elegant shape, perfectly polymerized and a finish of commendable beauty.”
94 Points

2021: “Seduces with a rich and sweetly scented bouquet of crushed black cherries, dried roses, and cloves. It’s silky in texture, enveloping all that it touches with ripe red fruits and spices, nicely framed by saturating minerality, as inner violet florals form toward the close. There are tannins here, but they don’t get in the way; instead, they create a perfectly dry platform where notes of lavender, plum and allspice hover above.”
92 Points Vinous

Frank Cornelissen's Munjebel Rosso

2020 Frank Cornelissen MunJebel Bianco

Cornelissen’s first white wine started out as an orange wine, fermented with the skins for an extended period. Frank liked the tactile feeling and density, but missed the finesse and precision of the classic French white wines, so he changed the technique to search for the purity and flavours of Etna. This transpired as a short period of skin contact and ageing for an extended period in the coldest part of the cellar before bottling. The obtained elegance, purity and density makes this wine very suited to accompany a wide variety of dishes and cuisine, from fish to white meat. 50% Grecanico and 50% Carricante.

“It is beautifully pure for a natural wine, and while rich, almost oily, there is drive and persistence to the gingery, herbal and stonefruit flavours.”
Different Drop

Frank Cornelissen's MunJebel Bianco