Wine regions of Calvi, Patrimonio and the Cap Corse
By Tom Fiorina
This Guide was last updated on 18 July 2013
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Sitting at the foot of the Cap Corse, Patrimonio forms a natural amphitheatre around the port of St-Florent. Considered by many to be the finest wine region on the island (even the Genoese who ran the island from the 13th to the 18th century thought so, exporting Patrimonio wine to fill church chalices and noblemen’s goblets back in Genoa), many of Corsica’s leading winemakers are found in this region. The sea plays an important role here in creating microclimates. Its cool breezes help the grapes to ripen slowly and to mature to perfection, but those same breezes can bring in fog (in fact, the region just inland from Patrimonio is known as the Nebbio, which is Corsican for fog), creating a risk of mildew. Much of the soil here is clay-limestone, but there are outcroppings of schist and granite. The whites are primarily from Vermentinu and the reds from Nielluccio.
Situated between Calvi and the popular port of Ile Rousse, the Corse–Calvi appellation is part of the Balagne, a vast amphitheatre of plains that rise up from the sea to a chain of 1,000–2,000m-high mountains. Up until the 19th century, the Balagne was known as the orchard of Corsica because of its fertile soil and mild microclimate. Vast plantations of olive and fruit trees fill the valleys between fortress villages, with their 360-degree vertiginous views, that seem to be on every hilltop. Along with Bonifacio, located at the southernmost tip of Corsica, the Balagne is the island’s driest region. Low rainfall, combined with sometimes violent winds, produce recurrent and devastating fires; the latest and among the most disastrous struck as recently as 2005. The Corse-Calvi regulations are quite similar to those for the simple Corse AC. The soil here is primarily decomposed granite.
This designation is for the famous Vin Doux Naturel sweet wine made from Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains grapes grown in the northern tip of the island. The Cap Corse soil is primarily schist, with some limestone on the western part of the peninsula.
With its abundance of monasteries, the 40km by 10km Cap Corse promontory was one of the island’s main wine regions as early as the 11th century. The Corse–Coteaux du Cap Corse regulations for reds, whites and rosé are quite similar to those for the Vin de Corse appellation. Best are usually the white wines, which are predominately Vermentinu, but sometimes blended with Ugni blanc. It’s also worth mentioning another Cap Corse aperitif, a Muscat-style red Vin Doux Naturel wine (made as Muscat du Cap Corse) called Rappu usually from Aleatico grapes.
Vin de Corse, or simply Corse, is the principal Corsican appellation. It covers the entire island, but, because the centre of the island is very mountainous, most of the AC Corse vineyards are in coastal areas, principally on the eastern side of the island. The Vin de Corse denomination is often followed by the name of a village, such as, in this northern part of Corsica, Vin de Corse-Calvi, or Vin de Corse-Coteaux du Cap Corse (see the ACs listed above, which have stricter regulations). Simple red and rosé Vin de Corse wines must include at least a 50% composition of Niellucciu, Sciaccarellu and Grenache. The white wines are composed primarily of Vermentinu.
The beautifully named IGP (formerly Vin de Pays) de l’Ile de Beauté wines, which consist of blends of native or typical Corsican grape varieties, such as Sciaccarellu and Niellucciu, with varieties from the French mainland, such as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, are increasing in number. Primarily, this is driven by economics, as the native, or typical, varieties tend to have lower yields and are more difficult to cultivate than the international varieties. To some, this is a step back 30 or 40 years into the past when native Corsican vines were replaced with high-yield varieties from abroad. To others, it is the only way to compete internationally.
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