Frank Cornelissen, Susucaru: Why Does This Wine Taste Like This?

Frank Cornelissen, Susucaru: Why Does This Wine Taste Like This?

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A Belgian-born winemaker began growing grapes and olives on the slopes of a Sicilian volcano. 20 years later, the wine world anticipates Susucaru releases like the world does Drake albums and the new Wordle. How did this happen? How did this not-sure-if-it’s-red, not-sure-if-it's-rosé become a paradigm of both the Etna region and wines as a whole? Here’s what’s up.

The Grapes

Unlike most rosé, Susucaru isn’t made exclusively with red grapes. The red nerello mascalese grapes are blended with white ones like malvasia, moscadella, and inzolia. Nerello mascalese gives the wine body and power, while the whites contribute citrus and floral flavors that help a wine that could become relatively dark stay refreshing. Like so many wines that become hallmark expressions of their regions, Susucaru is made with native grapes - inzolia was born on Sicily, and nerello mascalese rarely strays from the slopes of Mount Etna.

The Vineyard

Cornelissen’s vineyards are located way up on the ashy northern slopes of Europe’s largest volcano - Etna. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the wine tastes a bit smoky. However, the altitude keeps it bright and refreshing, combining with the proximity to the Mediterranean to create a microclimate that is very much non-Sicilian. It can even snow up there. The vines themselves are quite old, which leads to more concentrated flavors (and a limited quantity of wine).

The Winemaking

Etna is an extremely unusual place that can produce extremely unusual wines. The hand of the winemaker is critical here. There are some classic wines on Etna and some natural ones too. In the vineyard, he harvests by hand and avoids chemicals. In the winery, he uses native yeasts to ferment the wine in neutral tanks, avoiding any influence of oak and therefore preserving the fresh and floral flavors. Sulfites, additives, fining, and filtration are all no-no’s. The result is savoriness and depth more reminiscent of Jura reds than typical rosé.

The X-Factors

And then there are the X-factors. Things that make Susucaru unique, even if the cause-and-effect is a bit more ambiguous. For example, Mount Etna is highly active, spewing lava visible from the ISS on a consistent basis. The smoke, the vibrations, the freakin’ magma all impart something, not to mention the incredible diversity of soils left in their wake. Frank farms those soils according to the lunar calendar- we won’t get into the lunar calendar here, it’s a reflection of his experimental nature and considerations of the final product being anything but the norm. This wine is like a cocktail, or an elaborately plated dish, it’s got a lot going on and the end result is different and also delectable.

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