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Corsica: A Vineyard with a difference
Corsica: A VINEYARD WITH A DIFFERENCE
Although wine growing was introduced to Corsica, as it was to Provence, by the
Greeks in Antiquity, making it one of France’s oldest wine regions, centuries were
to elapse before it prospered. After two world wars had left it on the wane, it
enjoyed a new lease of life in the 1960s. Quality was initially poor, though
gradually, promising wine regions emerged. Nowadays they form a ring around
the island, like a crown studded with jewels, each one refined and expressive.
The north-south aligned mountain range stretching from one side of the island to
the other harbours countless, highly idiosyncratic ‘terroirs’ embodied by myriad
distinctive wines. Despite this diversity, soil formations can be divided into two
major types - the upper western slopes are predominantly crystalline and granite,
lacking in loam which makes them slightly prone to erosion. The eastern basin
has a high proportion of shale and alpine type soils with large and sometimes
recent deposits of sediment…
The island’s idiosyncrasies also apply to its astonishing range of grape varieties,.
Sciacarello and Niellucio are major varieties for the reds and rosés, along with
Barbarossa, Grenache, Cinsault and Carignan. For the whites, Vermentino,
otherwise known as Corsican Malvoisie, has become a household name and is the
most prevalent white varietal. Other grape varieties play a minor role - such as
Ugni Blanc - and some are even scarce, such as Rossola and Codivarta, both of
which are only blended to make AC Vin de Corse-Coteaux du Cap Corse.
In terms of character, such a comprehensive range of grape varieties is reflected
in a broad selection of wines. These can vary from light wines (like some
Sciaccarello…) to more dense wines, like those made from Niellucio, which are
described as well-balanced, round wines, suitable for lengthy cellaring.
Conversely, the rosés and whites should be drunk young (two to three years old),
the whites extracting finesse, freshness and exotic aromas from the Vermentino
varietal. INAO has granted appellation status to some of the island’s regions, in
recognition of their quality. Depending on their character and quality standards,
the wines follow a three-tier hierarchy. On the first rung are wines labelled under
the regional appellation ‘Vins de Corse’, followed by five ‘Villages’ appellations,
and at the very top, two growths, ‘Ajaccio’ and ‘Patrimonio’…
For wine lovers yet to discover wines from the ‘Isle of Beauty’, time is of the
essence. There are still many gems, with price tags making them very affordable.
Review of recent vintage2012: This was a good year for winegrowing on the island. The winter was mild,
with a bit more rain than in Provence (more than 125 mm of precipitation). The
spring benefited from hot, sunny days interspersed with relatively steady rains.
The summer was very sunny, hot and dry, especially in July and August.
THE CORSICAN APPELLATIONS
Overview: until 1984, this appellation was known as Coteaux d’Ajaccio. It
stretches from the Gulf of Porto to the Sartène area, over 36 towns and villages.
This highly-fragmented wine region is centred chiefly on the granite hillsides of
the Gulf of Ajaccio and Sagone. Some vineyards are the highest in Corsica.
Wine styles: the majority of the wines are red, made from at least 40%
Sciacarello. They are nervy, vigorous, fragrant wines (pepper, vanilla, dry leaf,
roasted coffee, raspberry), with a solid framework. Firm when young, they have
the potential to mature well. Try with red meat served with a sauce, game, or ewe
milk cheese. The salmon-pink colour rosés display aromas of quince and
grapefruit. They pair well with cured ham. The whites are drawn from at least
80% Vermentino and smell pleasantly of linden and freshly-cut hay. Try with
shallow-fried red mullet or sauteed squid.
Overview: situated in the southern part of Cap Corse between Bastia and the
citadel of Saint-Florent, Patrimonio was the first area to be granted AC status in
Corsica. Seven villages are entitled to the appellation. Patrimonio is made from
95% Niellucio for the red wines and Vermentino only for the whites. The wines are
50% red and 30% rosé. The vineyards are planted on hillside sites formed of
limestone and clay scree. The soils are consistent, which is unusual for Corsica.
The mountains form a buffer against the wind. Fog is prevalent both in the
autumn and the winter.
Wine styles: the reds with their deep hue (ruby-red) exhibit balsamic fragrances
(pine trees), dried fig, raspberry, violet and toasted aromas. They are powerful,
dense, fleshy, warm and robust – more so than wines from Ajaccio - with a full
mouthfeel. Try with game or goats cheese. The pleasant, fruity rosés are
full-bodied with a slight acidulous note and pair with Corsican cooked cold pork
meats. The pale yellow colour whites display floral and apple aromas. They are
supple, fruity and well-structured. They are suitable for fish and shellfish.
A.C. Vin de Corse
Overview: these wines can be grown throughout the AC Corse production area
(except for the Patrimonio region). Most Corsican wines (Vin de Corse) come from
the hills overlooking the eastern plains and the middle Golo valley in the Corte
area. A local appellation name (Sartène, Calvi, Cap-Corse, Figari, Porto-Vecchio)
can be appended to AC Vin de Corse.
Native grapes are the most prevalent though Mediterranean varietals from the
mainland are also grown. For red and rosé wines, the range comprises Nieluccio,
Sciacarello and Grenache noir augmented with a maximum 50% of Cinsault,
Mourvedre, Barbarossa, Syrah, Carignan and Vermentino (20% maximum for the
latter two). For the whites, the range is simpler: Vermentino (75% minimum) and
Ugni blanc (25% maximum).
Wine styles: the reds have a pleasant bouquet, are well-constituted, warm and
supple. Aromas of fresh fruit and undergrowth are present, with gamey, spicy
notes. Try with barbecues, roast meats (beef, goat), patés. The rosés have a deep
colour, good vinosity and are clean. The whites are fat and supple with a slight
bitterness. They pair with fish, sea urchins, goats or ewe milk cheese, and cooked
cold pork meats.
Vins de Corse-Calvi: the appellation comes from Balagne, in the north-western
part of the island. Vines grow mainly on the plains or Figarella and Regino valleys
and along the coast. The reds are supple, concentrated and fragrant, the rosés
are delicate, round and fruity. The whites are particularly complex and display
great aromatic power. They should be drunk young.
Vins de Corse-Cap-Corse: this is the island’s most northerly wine area, set in the
Regliano region. A broad selection of wines are made on a boutique scale. They
range from particularly complex dry white wines with great aromatic power made
from Malvoisie and Codivarta to red wines with good cellaring capacity and
dessert wines known as ‘rappus’… The region also boasts its own appellation -
Muscat du Cap Corse - made from small-berry Muscat.
Vins de Corse-Figari: this is the Isle of Beauty’s most southerly wine area. The gulf
of Figari is dry and hot, making it highly conducive for growing red vines. The
vines are planted on gently sloping hills, all facing south. The resultant wines are
well-constituted and distinctive. They are considered to be amongst the island’s
Vins de Corse-Sartène: Sartène is situated in southern-western Corsica, near the
Rizzanese river. It was the first wine growing region in Corsica to introduce
modern techniques in the 19th century. 16 villages are entitled to the appellation.
The reds, particularly those from the Montanaccio varietal, a local variation of Sciacarello, are round, distinctive and long on the palate. The rosés are robust
with a pleasant bouquet. The whites are full and fragrant.
Vins de Corse-Porto-Vecchio: this appellation occupies the far south-eastern tip of
Corsica, along the coast. Local farming focuses on wine, which is grown around
Porto-Vecchio and Bonifacio. The reds are round, fruity, well-balanced and
elegant. The rosés are delicate and aromatic. The whites are dry and fruity.