We take a look at the wines of Corsica, grown on the slopes and earth of this most beautiful French island in the Mediterranean…
It’s the scent of Corsica that lingers longest. The French call it maquis, the locals macchia, both a name for the aroma of rosemary, thyme, marjoram, mint, and a myriad of other native herbs and flowers that fill the island’s unhurried air.
Yet for all its beauty, Corsica remains an island of contradictions. a place of land-based cuisine but marine-infused wine, of French possession yet Italian heritage, of fierce pride served up with unwavering hospitality. In short, a crucible of sensory and cultural extremes accessible only by boat or air.
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” John Donne
If no man is an island, but a ‘piece of the Continent’, Corsica is indeed a chip off the Continental coastline of France. The island of Corsica lies 100 miles southeast of France, seven (7) miles north of Sardinia, and 50 miles west of Italy. Corsica enjoys a Mediterranean climate with Oceanic/Alpine influences. It’s also the most mountainous, non-volcanic island in the Mediterranean.
And though an island, Corsica is not ‘entire of itself.’ On the contrary, many continents have colonized, captured and conquered it over the centuries.
Phocaean traders predated the Romans. Romans came, saw and encouraged Corsica’s wine culture until the 5th century BC. Non-drinking Saracens followed next, putting a stopper on wine production until city-state Genoa paddled over from what is now modern Italy.
The Genoese reign from the 13th -18th centuries proved both a blessing and a curse. While introducing rigorous wine harvest and production laws, Genoa also sipped greedily on Corsica’s wine exports. Some ampelographers (the folks that study and classify wine grapes) also credit Genoa with introducing the Sangiovese clone known locally as Nielluccio or Niellucciu.
But all somewhat-benevolent occupations must eventually come to an end, and in 1768, Genoa ceded Corsica to France. Prudent France ensured continuation of the region’s wine production, improving exports greatly when local boy-made-good, France’s Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, decreed Corsican wine and tobacco exports duty-free.
No amount of political clout, however, could save Corsica from the 19th century phylloxera plague. While some wine makers survived by replanting vines to American rootstock, others vignerons chose to leave the island. Only in the 1960’s, with an influx of Algerian colonists, did Corsica’s vineyards begin the rebound they enjoy today.
Corsica’s biodiversity – a mixture of soils, micro-climates and topography, creates one of the most unique vinicultural areas in the world. No wonder it’s called I’lle d’Beauté (Island of Beauty). Corsica’s wine regions literally ring the island’s center, Parc Naturel Régional de Corse, an unspoiled park sporting snow-capped 9,000 ft. Monte Cinto. High diurnal shifts ensure warm days and cool evenings, good for retaining freshness and bright acidity in the grapes. The northern part of the island, with its schist soils, favours the white grape Vermentino, while the limestone and clay soils of the south prefer the red varietal Nielluccio. In the west, granite soils support another red grape, Sciaccarellu, while the eastern sandy, granite soils produce a plethora of whites, reds, and rosés.
Corsica contains nine (9) wine regions, or AOC’s (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) Vin de Corse AOC, the regional AOC, administratively covers the entire island, but technically encompasses most of the east coast of the island. Within the regional AOC lie five (5) sub-appellations, regions smaller in size and yields. These include: Vins de Corse, Coteaux du Cap Corse, Calvi (famous for Gris de Calvi rosé), Sartène, Figari, and Porto Vecchio.
The island’s other four wine regions include: Ajaccio AOC, Patrimonio AOC (and Corsica’s first AOC), Muscat du Cap Corse AOC, and Vins de Pays (VDP’s). Corsica’s VDP wines are those typically produced with less restrictions and greater yields than those of the AOC’s, but with more restrictions than VDT (Vin de Table) wines. Corsica boasts two (2) VDP’s – VDP I’lle de Beauté, (responsible for 60% of all Corsican wine production), and VDP Pays de Mediteranée, which includes Rhône, Provence, and Corsica.
Many consider Corsica the most exciting wine region in France today, offering up pours of depth, drama, and soulfulness – many from traditional grapes, most grown organically.
Without question, whether a Francophile, wine lover, or holiday traveller, I’lle de Beauté beckons, bewitching all who land ashore.
L. M. Archer, FWS is a freelance writer, International Travel Writers Alliance member, and member of the French Wine Society holding designations in French Wine and Bourgogne Master-Level Certificate. When not writing, traveling or tasting, she’s dreaming…usually about Burgundy.