France: Corsica

Northern Corsica

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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Main wine styles

In the 1960s and 1970s, following the arrival of repatriated colonists from former French colonies in North Africa, Corsican wine had a terrible reputation. Indigenous Corsican grape vines were replaced with high-yield grape varieties from the south of France, including Grenache, Alicant Bouchet, Carignan and Cinsault. Huge amounts of sugar were imported to the island during this period, as winemakers on the fertile eastern plain of the island used chaptalization to increase the sugar content of these wines.

The outlawing of chaptalization in Corsica in 1972, and the uprooting of two-thirds of the vines between the mid-1970s and 1990, dramatically altered the island’s wine industry. The intense insularity of Corsicans, partly geographical (a mountainous island limits access in two ways) and partly historical (repeated invasions by outsiders), and the pride in Corsica of all things Corsican has worked in its favour as typicity has become a desired trait in wines. A generational change has also led winemakers there to recognize the unique attributes of the island’s terroir, climate and native grape varieties. Their efforts to improve the quality of the island’s wine are now paying off.

Reds

When well made, the Corse-Calvi reds, usually from a base of Niellucciu, Sciaccarellu and Grenache, with the addition, sometimes, of Syrah, have an excellent structure, but they can have, depending on the year, an elevated level of alcohol and a relatively low level of acidity. On its own Niellucciu produces tannic, deep red wines with aromas of ripe stone fruits and violets. These wines need time to come to maturity, and winemakers often blend Niellucciu with Sciaccarellu or another red grape to soften its hard edges. Niellucciu is particularly well adapted to the limestone soil found in the Patrimonio appellation and Patrimonio wines are often rich and opulent with velvety tannins, worthy of ageing. Winemakers such as Yves Leccia and Antoine Arena in Patrimonio are producing exquisite, well-balanced reds that can age for up to 10-15 years. The simple AC Corse or Vin de Pays reds are fruity, light and mostly easy-to-drink, designed for early consumption.

Dry Whites

Vermentinu produces high-quality white wines, high in alcohol, pale yellow in colour, and dry in taste, with aromas of camomile and apples. Corse-Calvi Vermentinu is aromatic and fruity, with strong floral notes, and Patrimonio Vermentinu can be also a delicious mineral-driven wine. Other dry whites from different varieties are usually no more than fresh and floral to be drunk early.

Rosés

Interesting rosé wines are made with Niellucciu and Sciaccarellu, or a blend of one or both of these grapes with Grenache or Cinsaut. Rosés made in the same manner as a white wine, where the grapes are crushed and then allowed to macerate for a short time, produces light-coloured rosé known as a rosé gris – the Corse-Calvi rosés are fruity examples, famous for their pale colour. Saignée rosé, a French term for ‘bleeding’ or running off a certain amount of juice from just-crushed dark-skinned grapes after a short, pre-fermentation maceration, produces a darker, more concentrated rosé. Some Corsican winemakers are experimenting with a combination of the two processes, gaining fruity freshness and spiciness from the white winemaking technique and a more pleasing mouth feel from the increased phenolics and flavour compounds that are extracted using the saignée technique.

Sweet Wines - Vin Doux Naturels

Muscat du Cap Corse is among the best Muscats in the world. Traditionally the grapes were picked and left to dry in the sun to concentrate the sugars but today the grapes are harvested at 14 to 15% potential alcohol, and alcohol is added at an early stage of fermentation, the classic way of making a Vin Doux Naturel. Depending on the year and the producer, Corsican Muscats can be rich and opulent, ranging from a clear yellow to a pale amber in colour, with notes of dried fruits, figs and dates. It is the aperitif of choice on the island, and better examples of sweet Muscat wines rival the great sweet wines of the world in their outstanding complexity and elegance. Rappu is a red Vin Doux Naturel, usually made in the same style but from red Aleatico grapes.

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