Ever since the New York Times first reported on the radically Natural wines of Mt. Etna, Sicily producer Frank Cornelissen in 2009, the wines have captivated the attention of Natural wine writers, enthusiasts and detractors across the United States.
To my knowledge, the wines have never been available in Texas until now: This week, I spied a bottle of Cornelissen at a venue that stands apart as the only Natural wine bar in our state, 13 Celsius Wine Bar on Caroline.
Cornelissen is widely considered to be the most radical Natural winemaker on the planet.
When I met with him last year in Los Angeles, he told me that Mt. Etna, an active volcano in northern Sicily, was literally the last place on earth he could find where he believed he could grow wines in a completely chemical-free environment.
It was a forgotten place, he explained, that had been left behind in the aggressively chemical-based farming movement embraced by post-World-War-II farmers and grape growers.
Although no official definition for "Natural" wine exists, most industry observers concur that they are produced using chemical-free farming, native (naturally occurring) yeasts only, and a non-invasive, unmanipulative approach to vinification. Click here for our thread of posts on Natural wine.
Adele Corrigan, who co-curates the wine list at "13" (as it is known among Houston wine intelligentsia), said that the wine was made available to the venue by one of the myriad brokers who are beginning to make inroads into the constipated Texas wine distribution system, which is otherwise dominated by the two "big" wine distributors.
One man's meat is another man's poison: Cornelissen's wines are as polarizing as they are coveted among English-language writes and consumers. Because they are unsulfured, they also tend to travel poorly and can show marked bottle variation.
I, however, am a fan of the wine and am thrilled to see that it's available for the first time in Texas.
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Whether you like it or not, Cornelissen represents one of the world's most extreme expressions of winemaking and it provides an example of what wine can taste like when produced in a chemical-free environment.
"13" is selling the wine at an obscenely low price right now. My tasting note? Run don't walk...