Monday, October 25, 2010

Pre-Germaly, Part One.

Yeah, so then there was that one time that harvest arrived late and I too early in Italy. I was gutted for a minute...and then I went to Sicily for a week. This did not suck.


It sucked at first, but that's only because I arrived at the airport in Rome and soon realized I mistakenly booked my EasyJet flight to Palermo for the following day. Oopsies. I wasn't going to admit this fact to any mortal soul, but there it went...oh well, I'm not the only one that's been bent over by the unbending butthole bargain Euro airlines.

As soon as the jagged coastline of Palermo came into site, I totally forgot and forgave EasyJet (and myself). I jumped in my little Frenchie rental car armed with an outdated copy of Italy for the Gourmet Traveler, and I was a dot, so to speak.

 Palermo was the first stop. The fact that the edition of my trusty guide book was also a bit rusty (nearly ten years old) frustrated me to no end in more than one city, but none more than in Palermo. Luckily, as I wandered about looking for currently non-existant restaurants, osterias, and winebars I stumbled upon things that tourists who aren't motivated predominantly by their palates normally find very interesting.
Like this fountain thing. The story goes that, post-fontana construction, when Sunday mass was over in the adjacent cathedral, the churchgoers crossed themselves and averted their eyes from the copious quantity of genitalia on display, water flying this way and that. They dubbed it “ The Fountain of Shame.”

Also, this church, La Chiesa Martorana. I read somewhere that it was a first built as a Greek Orthodox Church, later renovated by an order of Benedictine nuns when they took over the building. Said nuns give “order” a bad name as it seemed to me to be quite a disorderly mash of gold leaf and generic cherubim fresco in place of the original intricate mosaics which the guilded sisters chucked, for the most part.  Its a damn good thing those nuns made ridiculously good sweets from almond-paste...their legacy still lives on in the 'frutta di Martorana' you can find in many pasticceria joints in town

Don't worry, La Antica Focacceria di San Francesco still stands, just as it has since antica times, apparently. Surely they changed the name along the way, right, adding the word, “antica,” after maybe 20 years or so? Whatever, this pic is of “second lunch.” I also ate “first lunch” here about twenty minutes prior. Yeah I know, but I couldn't help myself, and I could've gone another round...but I had a loose itinerary to stick loosely to.


on the left: Panino con Milze (ooh, veal innards sliced thin topped with fresh ricotta and grated parmesan)
on the right: Stuffed Rolled Sardines, aka, Sarde alla Beccafico alla Palermitana

Needless to say, I was fueled up for the long-ish drive to Mt. Etna to peep Frank Cornelissen's place (thanks to of Zev Rovine Selections, his NYC importer distributor and long time man-crush of mine for the contact). Unsurprisingly, I had a rough time finding Azienda Agricola Frank Cornelissen. I learned it is, in fact, a universal truth that the small-town auto mechanic knows everyone, and will even lead you to the little bar that one may likely find a character such as Mr. Cornelissen. Frank was all smiles and quite welcoming despite the fact that he is a very busy dude as many winemakers tend to be. We quickly checked in on the finishing touches of his new cantina, that is to say, the installation of his cache of amphorae.

Hell yes.

We talked construction, cellar hygiene, lava rocks, and Italian bureaucracy. It would appear building anything in Italy is nearly as difficult as producing mind-bending natural wine devoid of sulfur use.

I met him early the next morning to do a little vineyard work. First, however, was a stop at the cafe where Frank was well-known and warmly greeted by all. We drank espresso and he suggested I try the deliciously Sicilian granite di mandorla. A slightly milky-sweet almond ice concoction. Perfect. I made a note to do that every chance I got on the trip. Parting company with the cafe go-ers, he quickly paid for everyone's coffee (such a dude) and we set to a little canopy management in one of his vineyards. 
Perhaps you think, “if you've pulled leaves in one vineyard, you've pulled leaves everywhere.” Not so. True, all over the world we pull the basal leaves (the lower ones,) for the same reasons, mainly increased airflow in the fruit zone greatly reducing fungal pressure from Botrytis as the fruit nears optimal maturity. However, when one pulls leaves on old albarello-trained vines with Frank Cornelissen, one learns lessons not only in grape sunburn and humidity and transpiration, but lessons in life, love, loss. After the requisite viticulture conversations (which I obviously relish) we settled into an easy banter of life, philosophy, and personal histories. I'll say it again, such a dude. I departed not too sweaty, but incredibly inspired, ideas and dreams swimming in my mind as I made the stunning drive up and down Mt. Etna to Siracusa.

“(Grape) Variety matters only in choosing one that is appropriate and speaks loudly of the soil. After that, I couldn't give a shit about variety...” Mr. Cornelissen.

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