Latitude-wise, the island extends from southern Bolgheri in Tuscany to 35 miles south of Rome. It is sunnier and drier there than anywhere else in France. However, the mountains are cold at night, even in in the face of summer’s fury, and the wind from the Mediterranean can be cooling – if drying, as long as it’s not shooting up from Africa. Still, at night the sea radiates back all the heat it absorbs during the day, keeping the lower elevations toastier than you might expect.
Grapes are cultivated on the slopes leading to the high altitude bases of these mountains, as well as in the eastern plains. This side of the island is not only flat, but also alluvial. The area produces basic wines, often used in bag-in-boxes and sold off in bulk.
The rest of the island produces the enticing bottlings we see exported to “the continent” and beyond. In the west, granite dominates. In the south and southwest, granite mixes with sand. (No surprise: Corsica’s most famous beaches are there.) On the northern end, we find schist, limestone and clay surface.
On the slopes, the vines are traditionally trained in the goblet style (an ancient method of training vines without trellises that creates a big, bushy growth). Irrigation is prohibited, which has caused great concern for the last eighteen months. There’s been almost no rain. It’s only when there’s no rain or too much heat that talk of vintages crops up. Otherwise, the years are stable.
Corsica has largely escaped “Cabernetization”. The local Nielluccio wine grape is one of the most popular. Its genetics strongly resemble Sangiovese.The Nielluccio grape’s origin has been a subject of debate: Some believe it is native to Corsica, while others feel it was brought to Corsica by the Genoese of Northern Italy some time during their rule of the area (between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries). Another red Corsican grape is Sciacarello; its name is derived from the local word “sciaccarellu”, which means “irresistible”. Vermentino, also known as Malvoisie de Corse (Corsican Malvasia) is a white grape that enjoys popularity around the Mediterranean. You will also find Grenache, in addition to Syrah, Carignan and other southern French varieties, too. Fifty-five percent of the production in Corsica is rosé; fourteen percent is white; and a small dribble, one percent, is sweet, vindoux-style Muscat. Thirty percent of production is red. All of the styles combined account for just one percent of France’s wine production. There are 264 producers and 104 independent wineries.
The island’s wines are subtle, eschewing copious new oak (and often any new oak at all) and goopy extraction. Minerality shines through, and there’s sometimes a hint of sea salt in the whites and rosés. These are wines of refreshment.
The occasional white – like the famous (and mind-bendingly delish) Clos Nicrosi – ages well, and many reds can easily be kept seven years to a decade. The diminishing supply and production of the heralded sweet wine Muscat du Cap Corse can last ages. Don’t miss one of these older, elusive beauties if you find one!
When I picked up my economy rental car in Corsica, I asked – jaded from other rentals in France – how the pick up was for getting on the highway. The woman stared at me with a quizzical expression and replied, “There are no highways in Corsica.” Just as there is no way to rush around an island packed with granite peaks, it’s often not possible to rush out and pickup some Corsican wines to sip. It may take some looking around considering the island’s small production and export levels, but your journey will be well worth it.
Editor's Note: According to Patrick Fioramonti of Le Vin Corse, the 2014 Corsican white wine vintage is Exceptional. The red wine vintage is Very High. Other famous vintages include 2001, 1990, 1987, 1985, 1977, and 1974.
See attached list for Snooth Editorial’s Top Corsican Rosé. We had the opportunity to taste some of these stellar selections last month at La Nuit en Rosé New York, the world's first and most fantastic wine cruise festival dedicated entirely to rosé wines and champagne. While these Corsican selections may require some leg-work to find, the effort is well worth your time. Create the demand!