This sun-drenched Mediterranean island in the Tyrennian Sea just north of Sardinia and west of Tuscany is French territory. Although the name sounds Italian and it is, the native language is closer to Italian than French. Corsica has been administered as a department for well over three centuries. There have been vineyards in Corsica for at least 2500 years, but the natives did not often have the pleasure and leisure to cultivate them. This rugged island was invaded so frequently that its history consists of conquest, revolution and strivings for independence. Hostile invasions and malaria infested shore lands forced the population to retreat inland, preferring a tough existence up in the mountains than having to fight invaders.
The vineyards were planted up in the hills, until 1960’s, when malaria was vanquished; large mechanized vineyards were established, often by pied noirs (French who had resided in Algeria and were forced to relocate after Algeria declared independence) They planted Carginan, Grenache, Cinsault and Alicante all French grape varieties with which they were familiar, although Corsican farmers have always favoured Nielluccio
( thought to be a clone of Sangiovese), Sciaccarello (found only on the island) and Vermentino for white wines.
Pied noirs emphasised quantity over quality and along with local controlling agency’s complacency to enforce laws, quality declined, and insipid wines started to hit markets; this quickly turned against Corsican wines. As a result of huge declines in export sales violence broke out in 1973 and wine scandals were uncovered with serious consequences. Regardless authorities took their time and only in 1983 made efforts to restructure the wine industry and created an appellation controlee law, but still today 50 percent of the production consists of Vin de Corse, Patrimonio (480 hectares), Ajaccio and Calvi (each 200 hectares), Figari (130 hectares), Sartene (170 hectares) are entitled to appellation controlee designation. Today some 70 independent wineries and co-operatives produce and market Corsican wines.
Skalli, head-quartered in Sete on the mainland, better known for its Fortant de France label, is well established in eastern Corsica producing inexpensive, mass-market wines that sell well in France, but not in export markets.
Corsican wines, probably more than anywhere else, reflect the rugged terroir. They are rustic, rough-hewn but charming in their own way, go well with local specialties, and when made by traditional techniques, age very well. White Vermentino can also be great is fruit is sourced from high-altitude vineyards inland.
Corsicans like their wines and landscape are complicated. Their culture is both distinct and fragmented, each valley and town has its own dialect, its own cheeses, its own specialties, its rustic wines and yes, even its own vendettas.
When both Sciaccarello and Grenache are judiciously selected and blended the wine can be fine, but fails to age. Sciaccarello grows well on the granitic soils on the southern and western parts, like Sartene and Ajaccio, the latter of which is Napoleon Bonaparte’s birthplace.
Niellucio does well in the heartland and around Porto Vecchio in the south. Independent wineries created the Patrimonio wine class emphasising traditional grape varieties and growing region. These are generally fine wines worth tasting and consuming even though all tend to be robust and require some cellaring.
Muscat, a popular grape around the Mediterranean basin, thrives in Corsica and may be vinified dry, off dry, or sweet, but always with high alcohol and fruit-driven.
One style of wine that traditionalists shun – rose can be delightful here.
Grenache and Niellucio, a naturally tannic grape, when vinified expertly can be outstanding, refreshing, and show spiciness to complement charcuterie and grilled fish.
Corsica offers a range of wines, styles and eccentricity, but only those of Patrimonio wineries stand out. Co-operatives stick to quantity and hope that they can wine markets over by low prices; something unlikely to happen
Corsican wines have not been exported to any large extent to North America in the last 25 years, but you can expect to see some full of vigour in the coming years. These forthright, sometimes earthy wines of character and individuality are worth a try.
Clos Capitoro, Domaine de Pratavone, Alain Courreges, Domaine Comte Peraldi, Orenga du Gaffory, Domaine Leccia, Antoine Arona, Clos Marfisi, San Quilico, Clos de Bernardi, Pastricciola, Dzomaine de Terracia, Domaine de Catarelli, Domaine de Tanella, Domaine Fiumicoli, Felix Andreani