Swordfish Pasta with a Not So Crazy Sicilian Red #ItalianFWT

Recipe sounded good, finished dish looked good, but the flavor combinations didn't thrill anyone.

Recipe sounded good, finished dish looked good, but the flavor combinations didn’t thrill anyone.

Frank Cornelissen Hijacked My Post
Our Italian Food Wine & Travel assignment this month was to highlight wine and food from a coastal area of Italy. I immediately knew I would want Sicily for my choice. I had picked out a Sicilian seafood pasta recipe to try as well white and red wines from the island. Unfortunately, the swordfish pasta wasn’t a winner at our house. The white wine was nice, but the red stole the show. Instead of trying to fight it, I’m going with it! Frank Cornelissen Contadino is a light bodied red wine, grown on the slope of an active volcano yet in sight of the sea, and it’s a great choice for seafood dishes. Frank’s story is an interesting one, I hope you’ll enjoy it as well.

Frank Cornelissen Contadino

Contadino shows a captivating pale ruby color

Frank Cornelissen Rosso Contadino IGP Sicilia Italy ($26 at Sunfish Cellars)
From the winery: “Our entry-level red wine is basically a field-blend of mostly Nerello Mascalese (85%) with other local varietals from all our old vine vineyards: Nerello Capuccio, Allicante Boushet, Minella nera, Uva Francesa and Minella bianco. Our Contadino expresses Etna as made in a traditional way of blending different varietals: fragrant, elegant, structured with personality.”

My Impressions
Eye:  Very slightly hazy, suspended thread of sediment in the bottle. Pale ruby red to a barely cool red edge. Almost rosé-like in color.
Nose: Medium+ intensity. Nice and clean, roses, fresh barely ripe red cherries, a touch of cinnamon.
Mouth: Medium body, super tart, wow! High acidity, medium- tannins. Fresh tart cherries dominate the flavor, medium- finish.

Swordfish pasta with Frank Cornelissen Contadino

Bright flavors, tart acidity and low tannins match perfectly with swordfish, tomatoes & pistachios.

Contadino and Swordfish Pasta
I liked all the individual ingredients in the dish: swordfish, cherry tomatoes, pistachios, capers, pasta. Somehow, they didn’t mesh for me, which was a surprise as the cookbook source has always been a winner. Oh well. The Contadino, though, was a perfect partner. The tart acidity matched the tomatoes, and the bright fruit flavor wasn’t too heavy for the fish.  I’ll be using Contadino as a go-to seafood wine in the future.

Frank Cornelissen

Originally from Belgium, Frank Cornelissen moved to Sicily in 2000 to begin his exploration as a winemaker. photo courtesy of Frank Cornelissen

Frank Cornelissen Is Not Crazy
Many people consider Frank to be just plain crazy. By all accounts, he is a staunch non-interventionist winegrower (he doesn’t like the “natural” association). He doesn’t train his vines to trellis, preferring the more natural alberello (gobelet) system.  Mature vines receive no fertilizer, no pesticide or fungicide (not even organic versions), no organic treatments, no biodynamic treatments, no tilling. Grown on the slopes of Mount Etna, the climate allows this approach to work.

In the winery, there are no additives used, including sulfites.  Many natural winemakers use a small amount of sulfur at bottling to ensure the wines stay stable once they’re outside the winemaker’s control.  Not Frank.  The wine has a simple request on the bottle to transport and store the wine below 61 deg. F.

Frank moved to Sicily in 2000 from Belgium where he was involved in the wine business, but not as a winegrower. From the beginning, he had a very clear idea of what he was trying to do: express the heart and soul of Mt. Etna.  He didn’t apprentice under another winemaker as he wanted to learn directly from the land.

Frank Cornelissen working near Mt. Etna

Frank works his vineyards between Mt. Etna and the Mediterranean Sea. Photo courtesy of Frank Cornelissen

His early wines earned him a spot as a “cult” winemaker, but they drew at least as much criticism as praise. A 2009 review from the Wine Berserkers message board called his wine “One of the worst wines I’ve ever purchased, this shouldn’t be considered a commercially acceptable product”. I remember reading about his wines around this time and wondering how good or bad they could be.

Also in 2009, Matt Kramer wrote this (surprisingly) positive piece in Wine Spectator about Frank and the “Crazy Club”. He defined them as “all those wonderfully idiosyncratic winegrowers who are, in my admiring opinion, pushing the boundaries of conventional winegrowing way beyond what’s considered normal or even advisable”. While he acknowledged the wines were unique and certainly not for everyone, he was quite supportive and enjoyed some of Frank’s wines very much.

In 2012, Elaine Chukan Brown (aka Hawk Wakawaka) wrote an empathetic post, but she noted the wines had an incredibly short drinking window, like 30 minutes after opening the bottle and lasting for 30 minutes until the wine turned to vinegar.

Does a crazy winemaker evolve? Apparently so. In 2016, Eric Asimov wrote this New York Times piece about Cornelissen’s progression.

This fall, Mr. Cornelissen’s wines arrived in Minnesota. I had tasted them on a couple of prior occasions, but I was eager to give them a try at home.  My impression so far? Excellent. The Contadino, was a unique wine and a bit different from many Etna Rosso’s, but there was no unusual funk. The wine was excellent on day 1 and was just fine on day 2 when I finished the bottle. I can’t wait to try the bottle of Munjebel Rosso I bought, and I’m hoping to see the Munjebel Bianco in town sometime soon.


Italian Food Wine & Travel Coastal Italy Posts
Take a look at my fellow Italophiles posts on coastal wines and food. Join our chat at #ItalianFWT on Twitter this Saturday January 7th at 1oam CST.


10 Responses to “Swordfish Pasta with a Not So Crazy Sicilian Red #ItalianFWT”
  1. The wine sounds like it’s right up my alley Jeff! Fascinating story about the winemaker. It reminds me of a winemaker in Tuscany whose wines I tried. I think it’s good to have some “crazy” winemakers! I really must explore Sicilian wines!

    • Thanks, Martin. I think you’re right, you’d like his wines. There are so many great choices from all around Sicily, both cutting edge and more traditional (still delicious!).

  2. I am totally intrigued. Guess I missed him at WBC16. I really want to try Frank’s wines. Cheers.

  3. Vino Travels says:

    Such a mixed bag of reviews, but I admire his desire to push the boundaries and explore.

  4. Sounds like a delicious wine and pairing! I like light reds with seafood and I’m sure this would be up my alley! Good story about the winemaker, too!

  5. Great story and would love to try these wines made from interesting grapes too! Love the color! Looking forward to our Sicily focus in the future!

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