Wine Club Dirt – February 2017

If you haven’t already worked Sicilian wines into your repertoire, this is your chance to discover the beauty and complexity this Mediterranean Island wines have to offer. This month Club Dirt will dive into offerings from two of the island’s best winemakers, both of whom are destined for the hall of fame: Frank Cornelissen and Arianna Occhipinti.

Sicily may not be the first place you think of when it comes to Italian wine, but the island has the most vineyards of any region in the country. Many of those vines are dedicated to making Marsala (the once ubiquitous dessert wine), but since the early 90s, there’s been a wave of new winemakers concentrating their efforts on smaller production and big flavor.

From the sandy, red soils of Vittoria to the black volcanic rocks of Mt. Etna, Sicily has a range of terroirs as diverse as the winemakers who farm them. Coupled together with its range of altitudes and perfect Mediterranean climate, Sicily will no doubt be a welcome addition to your expanding repertoire of wine regions.


Cornelissen Contadino Rosso 2015 – $29.99/btl

Sicily’s Mt. Etna is an insane place to make wine. An active volcano with crazy steep, rocky slopes results in the production of some truly stunning wines. Winemaker Frank Cornelissen is a passionate man who is just as rugged and interesting as the steep, rocky slopes he farms.  He prefers not to be labeled a ‘natural winemaker’ but he, without a doubt, is making some of the most intriguing wines you can get, without the use of additives or chemicals, with as little interference as possible.

Cornelissen’s Contadino Rosso, already a legend in nerdy wine circles, is a great introduction to the man and his wines. The predominant grape in this blend is Nerello Mascalese (85%), but there are other native Sicilian varietals rounding out the blend including Nerello Capuccio, Allicante Boushet, Minella Nera, Uva Francesca and Minella Bianco. These make for a naturally hazy but delicious blend of ripe, tangy red fruit. The palate is at once satisfied with a full-bodied blast that rides a wave of super crisp acidity. This is all balanced by a searing minerality, thanks to that rocky volcanic soil.  Drink at cellar temp or throw an extra chill on this wine, either way you will find the bottom of the bottle very quickly. It’s makes a magnificent pairing with Marinated Hanger Steak.


Occhipinti Frappato Rosso 2013 – $34.99/btl

If the world of wine has anything close to a rock star, Arianna Occhipinti would fit the bill. I was at an industry tasting not long ago, and while most winemakers had the usual crowd of polite tasters, Arianna’s table was buzzing with excitement. There were fans clamoring for autographs and selfies with the Sicilian star. Her pedigree includes a famous winemaking uncle, Giusto Occhipinti (the “O” in COS wines), as a mentor, but she has earned her place as an exceptional winemaker on her own merit. She produced her first vintage in 2006 at the age of 24. Her wines are incredibly elegant and light compared to many other Sicilian wines. Arianna explains why, “Not irrigating, harvesting late and not using fertilizers are the secret to making more elegant wines in the area. The freshness and minerality in my wines come from the subsoils. Any wine made from young vines or chemically grown vines feeding only off of the top soil will have the cooked, hot characteristics people associate with wine from warm regions.”

There is no better way to describe Arianna’s Frappato Rosso than in her own words “bitter, bloody and elegant.” Tart red fruit balances an animal note, and is complimented by focused layers of black olive, black pepper and floral flavors. The elegance is certainly apparent in the well-integrated tannins and driving minerality, characteristic of the red limestone soils from which they grow. We like to pair this wine up with aged cheeses and hard salami. Try it with this recipe for a wintery Panzanella with salami, aged cheese, and olives.