Modern Corsican wine is still very much in an exploratory phase—and largely free of the telltale signs of striving that mark other Mediterranean regions. That means the wines come at you relatively clear in their flavors and origins. There’s not much of the viscosity and elevated alcohol levels that mark too much of the southern Rhône, or the addiction to new oak that Spain is struggling to defeat.
If there’s a corollary, it might be the wines of Corsica’s island neighbor, Sardinia, although only the whites share a common grape (vermentino).
With 776 hectares planted around the island, vermentino is the most important white grape, and, projecting five or ten years out, it’s safe to say that Corsican vermentino will be high on the roster of important wines from this part of the world. It’s a grape that shows different facets depending on its habitat, and the range of Corsican soils and appellations offer numerous interpretations. The island also stands to become a top source for serious rosé, which sounds like a backhanded compliment but isn’t. Their pink wines are among the best to be found anywhere.
Red wines are more complicated. The leading red grape on the island is nielluccio—which is sometimes bottled under its Tuscan name, sangiovese—but too many examples can be either neutral or ragingly tannic, neither option doing justice to the Corsicans. The indigenous sciaccarellu is theoretically the pride of the island, although it’s hard to say just how it makes its statement, in part because it’s typically blended with nielluccio. Varietal versions are occasionally bottled, and while they typically offer bright red fruit they can also be coppery and aggressively herbal. The best reds tend to be aged in steel or concrete, which preserves their freshness. Much the same is true of the whites, although the occasional concrete egg and even amphora has popped up.
Crucially, the current generation of Corsican winemakers have largely avoided not only the previous generation of trends (overuse of new oak and such) but many of the current fixations of mainland French winemakers. There are no deliberately patronizing labels featuring half-naked women and few Rousseauist dabblings in no-sulfur naturalism—although the naturalist crowd in France reveres Abbatucci and Arena as heroes. Perhaps it’s radical enough to make wine on an island that just wants to be left alone.
The Top Five Names to Know in Corsica:
Domaine Abbatucci: Jean-Charles Abbatucci’s wines are both spectacular and increasingly rare. His most popular wines are labeled Faustine, for his daughter, and come in all three flavors: red, white and rosé, the latter of which I am partial to. The Rouge Frais Impérial, a light sciaccarellu-based red fragrant with rose petal, shouldn’t be missed. And if you locate a bottle from his Collection series—the white Général, red Ministre Impérial or others—don’t hesitate, although his Monte Bianco, almost mentholated in its herbal intensity but still nuanced, is the island’s best evidence that sciaccarellu can produce a great red wine.
Domaine Antoine Arena: The three vineyards to know from Arena are Morta Maio, arguably his best plot of niellucio; Grotte di Sole, which can yield whites that are plump with melon and agave-syrup flavors; and his Carco and Haut de Carco, on steep slopes of clay and limestone. There is the rare, luscious Bianco Gentile white, and a forthcoming version of the white Carco Blanc, which is the quintessence of vermentino. Also forthcoming is a balsamy, energetic Memoria red, from nielluccio planted in 1920.
Nicolas Mariotti Bindi: Bindi, a Cap Corse native, worked not only for Arena but other Patrimonio talents like Annette Leccia and Muriel Giudicelli before moving into a converted fire station on the road to Poggio d’Oletta. His grapes come from the organic, limestone-rich Mursaglia parcel near Leccia’s, where he began acquiring vines in 2009. His Mursaglia Blanc is an excellent example of Corsican vermentino, while his Mursaglia Rouge offers plenty of mineral brightness and sagebrush aromas amid the tannins.
Domaine Maestracci: The Maestracci wines are worth trying for a very different window into Corsica—namely the cool stretches of the Balagne plain, tucked in between precipitously high hills on the northern coast. The Raoust family farms the elevated E Prove plateau, with its cold nights and sandy, granitic soils. Daughter Camille-Anaïs Raoust is using indigenous yeasts and more precise farming to expand on her father Michel’s work. The nutmeg-scented E Prove White is a study in dense texture, thanks in part to up to a day of soaking the new juice on grape skins. That same attention to texture echoes in the blood orange-tinged E Prove Rosé.
Clos Signadore: After apprenticing at Bandol’s Chateau de Pibarnon, Christophe Ferrandis returned to his father’s native Corsica and lucked into eight-and-a-half hectares in the heart of the Patrimonio valley. It has become a laboratory for his beliefs in reinvigorating old-fashioned ways of vine growing, including a devotion to organic farming. The mineral complexity of the soils reflects in the bright, almost chalky side of his A Mandria Blanc, while his A Mandria Rouge shows bright red fruit and a black-poppy savoriness.
Others to Seek Out:
Clos Marfisi: Up the road from the Arenas, Julie and Mathieu Marfisi have taken over from their father, Toussaint, and today are making an exceptional set of pink wines: Cuvée Julie and Rosé d’Une Nuit. As they replant their seaside vineyard, Ravagnola, expect their nielluccio-based red to find even more finesse.
U Stiliccionu: Young Sébastien Poly-Casabianca is a solo act at his family’s biodynamically farmed property about a mile from Abbatucci, which he reclaimed in 2006. His reds, particularly the sciaccarellu-dominant Kalliste, are worth looking for.
Domaine Giacometti: Christian Giacometti and his son, Simon, offer distinctive wines from western Patrimonio. The whites shine more, but the tank-aged red, Sempre Cuntentu, is approaching the sort of subtlety that Corsican reds could use more of.
Domaine de Vaccelli: After a family schism in 1974, the Courrèges guided their part of the property toward organic farming and native varieties. Their bright Juste Ciel! (grenache and alicante bouschet) shows the virtue of less-is-more red winemaking. But whites, really, are the thing here, especially the tensile, sesame-scented Granit Blanc.
Clos Nicrosi: Much of the vineyard land in Corsica’s far north has given way to orchards and homes. But Marine and Sébastien Luigi are still holding strong to the Cap Corse tradition of dessert wine production, along with a dry wine or two thrown in for good measure. Their Muscatellu (muscat, fortified and partially made in the passito style) mixes a molasses sweetness with a green olive bite, while their Blanc de Blanc white shows a completely unique take on vermentino.