Ep 402: Corsica, the French Island with an Italian Accent
Corsica is the 4th largest Mediterranean island and the most mountainous. It is a territory of France but is closer to Italy in proximity and, often in wine styles. Corsica is called “Ile de Beauté,” the beautiful island, and its wines, which were once known for quantity rather than quality are making great strides in amazing reds, whites, and rosés, which is the majority of their production.
These off-the-beaten trail wines, made of Nielluccio (Sangiovese), Sciacarello (an elegant, native red), and Vermentino (an aromatic white) with a mix of other grapes represent the unique terroir of this rugged, varied isle. These wines are ones to keep on your radar – they are getting better and should be on your “watch” list!
Map: Vins de Corse
Here are the show notes:
Location, Climate, Geology
- We discuss the location of Corsica -- 90 km/56 mi west of Italy, 170 KM/106 mi SE of France, 11 KM/7 mi north of Sardegna
- Corisca is a big island -- twice the size of Rhode Island, half the area of the country of Wales. Down the center a single chain of mountains takes up 2/3 of the island
- We discuss who actually planted vines here and debate Phoceans v. Phoenicians (the former is from Persia, the latter more from what we know as Greece today)
- In this, the most mountainous island in the Mediterranean, there are many soil combinations, but most contain at least some granite or schist, except on the east coast where there is more alluvial and colluvial soils from mountain runoff
- 20% of island covered by wild scrub known as the maquis -- fig, lavender, wild mint, thyme, rosemary -- Wines are highly aromatic, minerally – especially the reds due to the Granite and the maquis
- The CLIMATE is Mediterranean, with abundant sunshine but also a lot of rain and very strong winds from every direction (the Mistral, the Transmontane, the Liebeccio, and the Gregale are some of those we list). The mountains and the sea are the influences that reduce day-night temperature swings. There are a variety of mesoclimates because of altitude and maritime influence
Grapes: More than 40 grapes that are Italian, Spanish, French and more, are allowed, but most are only allowed in IGP wines. The main grapes are Nielluccio, Sciacarello and Vermentino
- Nielluccio represents 1/3 of plantings and is genetically identical to Sangiovese but tastes totally different because of the terroir in Corsica.
- Sciaccarello is 15% of production and displays high acidity, elegance with smoke, raspberry, licorice, hazelnuts, blackberries, orange notes
- Others: Grenache, Aleatico, Barbarossa, Carcajolo Nero, Minustello (Graciano), Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignan
- Vermentino was probably brought to the island by the Greeks and, today is 15% of production, created floral, honeyed wines. It’s often blended with Ugni Blanc, Biancu Gentile.
Regions: 9 AOC/AOP regions and the I’lle de Beauté IGP
Ile de Beauté
Representing about 2/3 of production, this IGP allows for all 40+ grape varieties grown on the island – it’s a cross section of all the native grapes of so many countries, from Spain to Italy to France to Greece. These wines aremostly the cheap and cheerful set, but can be really good if the winemakers are like the AOP laws
Granted Corsica’s first AOC in 1968, Patrimonio is on the northern coast of the island, near the sea. Nielluccio is the lead grape with Grenache and Sciacarello used prominently in reds and rosés, and Vermentino in whites and sometimes rosés. The reds are aromatic, fruity and a bit smoky. The rosé is fuller bodied and the whites, are usually floral and full.
Granted its AOC in 1971, the AOC is along the west-southwest coast of Corsica. It contains some of the highest vineyards, up to 500 meters (1,600 feet) and has clay-based soils with granite, leading to wines with structure and fullness. Medium bodied, spicy reds and rosés are from the lead grape Sciacarello with Barbarossa, Nielluccio, Vermentino, Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan and others. Aromatic, dry whites are made of Ugni Blanc and Vermentino.
Muscat du Cap Corse AOC
An AOC for Vin Doux Naturel made in the northern peninsula of Corsica from Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains. Vineyards are on steep terraces, grapes are hand-harvested later in the season and the top wines are aromatic with candied fruit, beeswax and apricot. They are sweet but have excellent acidity.
Vin de Corse AOC and its sub regions
Vin de Corse AOC is a region-wide designation and represents 45% of all AOC wines produced in Corsica. This specific AOC is for the eastern seaboard of Corsica and it’s planted in the plain and rolling lands. Reds and rosé wines are at least 50% Nielluccio, Sciacarello, and Grenache with the other grapes like Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsault, Aleatico, Barbarossa, Graciano. Reds tend to be rustic, full flavored, higher in alcohol and strong in tannin, the rosés are peppery, and the white is mainly minerally, floral Vermentino.
The 5 Vin de Corse sub-regions are: Coteaux du Cap Corse, Calvi, Figari, Porto Vecchio, Sartène. These sub-regions have lower yields than Vin de Corse and use the same grapes mentioned above.
Map: Vins de Corse
Vin de Corse-Coteaux du Cap Corse is in the northern peninsula of the island, which extends into the Ligurian Sea, which may be why there is salinity in the wines. The area is windy with schist-based soils, and ~ 50% of production is rosé with smaller proportions of red and white. The steeper site made interesting wines.
Vin de Corse-Calvi is in the northwest corner of Corsica with vineyards along the coast and in the foothills of Corsica’s mountains creating many mesoclimates. This area contains some of the oldest vineyards in Corsica and producers are 100% organic or in transition to it. The wines are of a similar breakdown to Coteaux du Corse.
Vin de Corse-Porto Vecchio is on the southeastern coast near the Golfe de Porto-Vecchio, a bay that provides shelter from winds. Porto Vecchio has granite-based soils with some alluvial areas in flatter lands. The wines are similar to others in the Vin de Corse AOCs.
Vin de Corse-Figari is he oldest vineyard area in Corsica, likely cultivated since the 5th century BC. It is on the southern tip of the island and is relatively flat, with granite-based soils sunny but a harsh and very windy climate. It is hard to grow grapes here yet there are many young winegrowers, who are very terroir focused.
Vin de Corse-Sartène is a hilly area northwest of Figari, that experiences strong winds. With granite soils the reds are spicy and rich, the rosés fruity and the whites light.
Producers we mention:
Clos D’Alzeto, Domaine Vico, Clos Venturi, Domaine Comte Abbatucci (known for cultivating native vines), Domaine Antoine Arena (biodynamic), Domaine De Torraccia (advocate for quality Corsican wines), Clos Canarelli
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