Corsica is a Mediterranean island located to the southeast of France. Its beautiful rustic mountain scenery and provincial flavor make it a popular tourist destination. Corsica is close to Sardinia, the Italian island, and Italian winemaking has had a great influence on that of Corsica. As a result, the wines made here are very distinct from those of the rest of France. For esoteric wine drinkers, this appellation can be excellent.
Corsica is most known for its only major city, Ajaccio, where Napoleon Bonaparte was born and where many tourists visit each year. However, the island's roughly 3,400 square miles have some more rural parts as well. Around the coastal areas, there are many vineyards, and oftentimes the wines that are produced are of amazing quality for a rather un-French price.
Napoleon played a major part in the early history of Corsican wine, although even before him the area's unique wines had attracted some attention. Napoleon lifted trade restrictions between Corsica and other regions, helping establish its wine. During Napoleon's time, this appellation was pumping out many low-quality bottles, and was considered a hub for good cheap table wine.
More recently, government efforts have required producers to adhere to more strict quality controls. The unique wines created by the island's indigenous grapes have intrigued buyers more than those made from international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, and they in fact are becoming an important niche in the world of French wine.
Climate and Viticulture
The Corsican climate is quite conducive to winemaking, with a very warm average temperature--only a few degrees lower annually than that of Hawaii! The weather is sunny, and although the climate is arid, Corsican vineyards are planted with grapes that grow well in that type of weather.
The soil in Corsica is almost entirely schist, a type of marl that is often seen in France's Rhône as well. The hilly Corsican climate makes for outstanding drainage and great concentration of the soil. Limestone, chalk, and clay are also present to a lesser degree.
Although international grapes have sometimes been planted, most of them red, the local grapes make the wines of the most character and unique feel. Regulations vary between the AOCs, since their soil and climate conditions are diverse, but typically Nielluccio and Sciacarello for red wines, and Vermentino for whites, are the most common grapes. Vermentino is actually an Italian grape, while the former two are Corsican in origin, and they tend to make the most original wines.
Most producers make wine that is inexpensive, and usually conveys good flavors. As said earlier, wine from local grapes is a better bet than wine from international grapes. Here are two producers considered especially reliable.
- Antoine Arena: This Patrimonio producer makes a variety of red cuvées, with the Grotte di Sole generally being the most recognized. Although expensive, it provides shockingly pure flavors, unique "island style" and at least 8 years' ageability. Other cuvées are barely less reputable.
- Maestracci: Inexpensive wines labeled as Vin de Corse Calvi, these are less qualitatively oriented than the great Arenas, but the whites can provide extremely unconventional flavors for less than $20. Reds are also neat and can age for several years.
There are several AOCs that apply to the Corsica region. Basic wines that do not use vin de table use the appellation Vin de Pays de l'Île de Beaute. Wine here is usually extremely inexpensive, and often is lower-quality juice made from an international grape. More serious buyers will want to consider one of the three higher-level AOCs that the region has:
- Ajaccio: The town of Napoleon's birth and Corsica's most important city, Ajaccio also has its own wine AOC. It was separated from the Vin de Corse in 1984; since then, wines from the area have become fairly rare on the global market.
- Patrimonio: The main AOC of Corsica, split from Vin de Corse with far more successful results than the splitting of Ajaccio in the same year. Patrimonio's wines are more pure in terms of grape composition than regular Vin de Corse, with 90% of the reds being Nielluccio and a few good whites being made from Vermentino. The soil is more composed of chalk and clay in these parts, making for wines of higher quality. In general, this is the AOC to look for when looking for good-quality Corsican wine, although it may be more expensive and less distinctive than the Vin de Corse examples.
- Vin de Corse: This appellation, created in 1976, is the next step up from the vin de pays appellation. It has some regulations that are supposed to encourage higher quality. It actually covers, according to most estimates, almost half of Corsican wines produced. It has its own subregions; Vin de Corse Calvi is the most often seen. Made for the wines of the scenic town of Calvi, this little subappellation is great for both white and red wines, with whites seemingly enjoying a better reputation than in other parts of the island. At least 50% of the red wines must be made from Grenache (it is no coincidence that this schist-loving grape also does well in Corsica) or the two traditional red grapes, with supplementary varieties allowed to be blended in small amounts. Whites are made up of Vermentino; Trebbiano can be blended in but rarely is. The towns of Figari, Porto Vecchio, and Sartene are allowed to append their names to Vin de Corse similarly to Calvi, but are less esteemed. The appellation of Vin de Corse-Coteaux du Cap Corse produces sweet Muscats which are rarely exported. Also, the "Vin de" may be dropped on some labels.