He grows wines that have ties to Italy and mainland France, yet express their individuality and are totally different.
It is an island that reconnects with its roots through culture, food and wine. Corsica is the most mountainous island in the Mediterranean Sea and lies 110 miles southeast of the French coast of Provence, 50 miles west of the Italian coast of Tuscany and just north of Sardinia. With its arid, sometimes frightening topography, it has remained more natural than most of the local islands, with many native vines and diverse flora and fauna.
Corsica is mysterious, with vineyards and grapes that are thousands of years old and produce open, rich and structured wines. In the fields grapes are cultivated for a simple rosé, while a few kilometres further on impressive red and white wines are made from varieties of which only a Corsican can really pronounce the names.
Photo: Claude Cruells
A country like no other
If you’re looking for a Corsican wine, it’s hard to find one.
There are many truths about Corsican wine, says Manu Venturi, owner of Domaine Vico and Clos Venturi, whose organic and biodynamic vineyards are located in the mountains near the center of the island. But one of the qualities he and others identify is its amazing aromatic quality, the sense of wild scents from the poppies, heather, herbs and medicinal plants that surround many vineyards.
So there are minerals. The granite rock dominates the landscape and benefits the wines, especially the red ones. This breathtaking landscape has created a cradle for the discovery of unique wines.
Detachment and insularity are important, says Sandrine Leccia. She and Yves Lexia focus on inherited vineyards, some of which were taken from their own organic vineyards in Patrimonio, in the north of the island.
Although we are Mediterranean, we have the freshness and balance of our wines because we are cooler than the continent, she says.
The reality is that most wines in Corsica are cheap and cheerful, made from international French grapes and marketed as rosé for early consumption. Some of them are going all the way to America. This is not the heart of Corsican wine.
Traditional Corsican wine is made from the Nielucciu and Chacarella grapes for red wines and Vermentino and Bianca Gentile for white wines. The names are unknown, and even if the origins of some are known (such as Niellucciu of Tuscan Sangiovese), their transformation into a fully Corsican wine is complete.
And this is just the beginning. There are many other Corsican grape varieties that can be explored and blended into the great wines of the future.
A story told by the grape
Marc Imbert, second generation owner of the organic Domaine de Torraccia, in the east of the island, describes Corsica as the Jurassic Park of grapes. The varieties survived, triumphed and are now coming back to life.
Due to its isolated location, Corsica has not suffered as much from phylloxera as continental Europe. This has allowed some of the 40 or so ancient breeds currently being tested to survive.
Photo by Claude Cruells
The Phoenicians, the Greeks and the Romans introduced viticulture to the island. The wine trade has flourished, more or less, depending on the politics of the moment. Over the years, control has shifted between the Italian cities of Pisa and Genoa.
Genoa was short of space and needed Corsica to grow food and wine. The island remained Genoese until the 18th century, when it became part of France. This happened just in time when Napoleon Bonaparte was born on the island as a French citizen.
Yes, we are French, but the Italian influence is so important, says Venturi. And it seems that it is the Italian influence that produces the island’s greatest wines and ensures their future. We have the capacity to produce great wines.
A solid foundation was laid in the 1960s, which really took hold from the 1990s, when manufacturers returned to their roots. The experiences in the vineyard and in winemaking are linked to the belief in a strong Corsican identity.
Yes, we are French, but the Italian influence is so important. -Manu Venturi
This is the future of what the French regulator of INAO, the National Institute of Origin and Quality, has described as a land of legends and magic. The legends are there, the magic is happening now.
Corsican key grape
Although genetically identical to Sangiovese, it has been present in Corsica long enough, at least since the Middle Ages, to have acquired its own identity. Dark in color, the wines have a rough, rustic look when young, but can be aged exclusively with oily tannins that give them structure and density and ripen into spicy, tangy flavors.
Grapes Ciacarella / JC Attard
Nielluccio is often blended with Sciacarella, which is related to another Tuscan grape, Mammolo. But even more than Nielucciu, Sciacarellu has adapted to his native island. He produces wines that, despite their pale color, can have a high alcohol content and aromas of red fruit. The chacarella is also found in many roses.
The most common native white variety planted on the island came from Greece in ancient times. In other parts of France it is known as Rolle. It is aromatic and fruity and can produce wines suitable for aging or early consumption. It can even work with aged wood.
Grapes Biancou Gentil / Claude Cruells
Biancu Gentil (bee-AN-cu jen-TIL-e)
One of the many grape varieties rescued from oblivion, originally from Corsica, has been revived since the 1990s. It is used almost exclusively in blends, where it contributes to powerful wines with rich aromas and tropical fruit flavors.
Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (Muscat CAT blahnk ah puh-tee grahn)
It comes from the south of France and is called Muscat de Cap Cors. From this arises the fragrant, fruity and sweet wine that this appellation is known for.
At this point, it gets even more interesting. There are so many species, many of which are almost lost or forgotten. Some of these are now in wine, others are still in experimental vineyards. There’s nothing on the label. It’s best to ask the seller.
Carcajullo (more simply, Carcajollo) Red wines include Nero, Aleatico, Minustello and Barbarossa. Codivarta, Biancone and Genovese for the whites. Corsica has recognised the importance of preserving these and other varieties. Two nurseries, one owned by the winemakers and the other privately owned by Antoine Abbatucci of the Domaine Comte Abbatucci, grow them on an experimental basis.
Learn the names
Considered the birthplace of Chacarellou (and 250 years ago of Napoleon Bonaparte), this 600-hectare name is located inland from Corsica’s capital, Ajaccio. It produces light red wines with a redcurrant taste and structured, dry white wines, as well as fresh, fruity rosés.
There are two types of carcass names. The one on the east coast of the island is a corpse, pure and simple. The 3,200 acres are planted on the only flat land on the island. There are reds, whites and pinks, with the reds being by far the most exciting. Many of them are imported. Other names, which have a body in their name and are scattered throughout the island, relate to local places: Cors Calvi, Cors Sartain, Cors Porto-Vecchio, Cors Figari, Cors Coteau du Cap Cors and the famous Cors Muscat du Cap Cors.
Ile de Bote
This is Corsica’s wonderful Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), representing two-thirds of the island’s production. Suitable for wines made from a single grape variety with well-known French grape varieties: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Most of these wines do not differ from each other. Sometimes an unusual mixture of local varieties falls into this category. Some of them are imported.
Dense reds, fragrant whites and rich pinks. The red and rosé wines of Nieluccio and the white wines of Vermentinu come from 1,200 hectares of land, almost exclusively organic, located on the north side of the island.
Look for labels from local producers that say Vin de France. These are wines produced outside the rules of the appellation. This category includes some of the most interesting new and local wines, the equivalent of Super Tuscans to keep an eye on.
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