This is an exposé about the beauty of Corsica
Wines from Corsica, aka Corse and l’Ile de Beauté, are distinctly different. I was impressed by their concentration and quality, and excitedly smitten by their unique flavours and aromas. Corsican wines are France’s best-kept secret. But no longer. This is the exposé.
Corsica’s edge is its more than 30 indigenous grape varietals, including its three noble grapes, Sciaccarello, Nielluccio and Vermentino. Although these varietal names, and others like Pivarella, Minustellu and Brustianu, do not initially roll off the tongue, the wines made from these grapes certainly go down easily enough. But then again, they always have.
Prized for hundreds of years before the Romans came along in 35BC, wines from Corsica are still receiving accolades and awards. Katrine Moral, Export Manager for UVIB, a co-op of 70 growers producing about 7 million bottles annually, explains why Corsica’s coastal vineyards are designed to produce wonderful wines.
“We are a mountain. That gives us a lot of different soils: alluvial, sandy, granite, shale and limestone. We have microclimates because of the sea, abundant sunshine and our moderating 3,500-metres-high mountain. Warm summers have fresh breezes that protect the grapes with natural ventilation. We are Corsica. Just as we have our own language and cuisine, our wines are different also. We are very proud.”
It also helps that many of the vineyards have been owned for generations by families who know and love Corsica’s unique grapes — and their nuances. Along with aromas and flavours of the maquis (Corsica’s woodsy-herby vegetation) and the sea, what is underlying in all the wines is a smooth, captivating, personality-rich minerality. No matter what is layered overtop — wild herbs; liquorice; citrus; black, red or stone fruit; flowers; spices; smoke or salt — the minerality shines through. As does a brilliant, balancing acidity that makes wines welcome on the table. They are also easy on the wallet.
Corse, which produces 35 million litres of wine annually, offers excellent value. For an island producing so much wine (the equivalent of 135 bottles a year per inhabitant), the quality is surprisingly high.
While techniques and traditions have changed over the centuries, one thing has not: the desire and dedication of Corse growers and winemakers to make quality wines that are authentic expressions of the island and its grapes. Clos Culombu owner Etienne Suzzoni, whose family has lived on Corse for countless generations says, “Winemaking is always very important; it is a tradition, a way of life. There are lots of winemakers here — both those who learn outside and come here, and those whose families have been here for centuries.” Winemaking is something Corsicans are passionate about. And it shows in every glass. Oops, their secret is out.
Clos Canarelli Tarra D’Orasi 2012 ($35)
I was impressed by all of Clos Canarelli’s AOP wines but thought this tasty Vin de France deserved attention because it is made from a field blend of 15 varietals that “grew up together and were fermented together,” according to winemaker Paul Guillouard. Broodingly dark with a long finish, this elegant red has its own personality. Different. And delicious.
Domaine Sant Armettu 2013, AOP Corse-Sartène ($25)
Hand-picked from 50-year-old vines in granite soils, this blend of Sciaccarello, Mielluccio, Grenache Noir and Syrah grapes has been crafted into a wine I love. Scrumptiously quaffable now, it will improve for another 7 years. Very impressive and pretty.
Union Les Vignerons de l’Ile de Beauté Prestige du Président 2011, Corse ($20)
This stellar co-op beauty is made “from our best varietals (Nielluccio [pronounced, “nelluch”], Grenache and Syrah) from our best areas by our best winemakers.” And it tastes like it. Silky, elegant, complex and slightly smoky, with round tannins, it enhanced our steak dinner and the cheeses that followed. Very impressive.
Domaine Orenga de Gaffory Cuvée Felice 2015, AOP Patrimonio ($25)
The Vermentino grapes in this wine ripen fully in the limestone foundation of the winery’s best vineyard, about 100 metres above sea level. Fresh and sleek, with a touch of salt and a smooth character. A charmer with anything from the sea.
Clos Nicrosi Blanc de Blancs Sec 2012, AOP Coteaux du Cap Corse ($40)
I’d call this wine “Golden Delicious” because of its burnished colour and its slightly baked apple scent. It tastes of green apples and stones, and finishes with almond nuances that are intriguing and without bitterness. Crisp and balanced, with a long finish. We enjoyed it with a chicken curry and friends.
Domaine Renucci Cuvée Vignola 2013, AOP Corse Calvi ($20)
Perfectly balanced, this white worked with apéros, as a complement to tartlets Lorraine and a meltingly ripe chèvre. Very expressive if you decant it 20 minutes before serving to bring out its peppery aromas.
Louis Montemagni Muscat du Cap Cuvée Prestige ($25)
A beguiling golden wine with barely-there tropical fruit flavours that made me wish it had only 5% alcohol instead of 15%. This is an off-dry-running-towards-sweet wine but its balancing acidity removes any hint of cloyness. We served it with French pastries and found happiness with the Chantilly-custard choux, dark chocolate bites and crème-brûlée tart, but this wine is a partner to anything not overly sweet.
Christian Imbert et fils Vignerons Domaine de Torraccia 2015, Porto Vecchio, AOP Corse ($21)
The first taste of this pale salmon wine whispers, “I’m a sweetie pie,” but that changes in an instant because of a balancing acidity. Pair it with skewers of spicy Thai shrimp.
Domaine Pieretti Marine 2015, AOP Coteaux du Cap Corse ($25)
The label says this 12.5% wine is “entre le schiste et la mer,” but I’d say this wine is far more stone than sea. A rosé with pure minerality, with a touch of salt and a long finish. Decant it half an hour before drinking and let time work its magic. You won’t be sorry. Serve at 12˚C for very fine results.
Clos Culombu Etienne Suzzoni 2015, AOP Corse Calvi ($25)
Looks and smells delicate but delivers a hefty minerality thanks to deep granite soil in the vineyards that gives the vines only enough water to focus the flavours. This one is also laced with juicy, almost-there cherry. Lots of lip smacking with this bio beauty. Serve it with just about anything.
Clos Ornasca 2015, AOP Ajaccio ($20)
Ajaccio is home to the magic Sciaccarello grape, the staple of this wine. Imagine pale almond-peach juice sluicing across cold stones and you have captured the essence. Perfectly balanced. Joyous. Fresh. Open it for a salad of roasted chicken, cashews and fresh peaches or apricots. Pass your glass and the poppyseed dressing. 20 minutes in the decanter brings out its best. Serve it at 7 to 10˚C.
Les Vignerons de l’Ile de Beauté Réserve du Président 2015, Corse ($15)
This racy rosé was a house favourite when I lived in France. Not only was the grocery store sale price exceptional at 2 bottles for 4,65 Euros, the contents were exceptional too. Punching far above its weight, this co-op find offers minerals and delicate fruit, and has a very long finish. We savoured it with apéros of crème fraîche and smoked salmon with chives on mini blinis, an entrée of roasted chicken and potatoes, and with Brillat-Savarin cheese at the end. A regular at the table chez nous. Do decant.