Corsica: Beautiful Wines That Age Graciously Too

We were delighted to read Liz Sague's articles on Corsican wines in the Hampstead & Highgate Express, particularly as she names The Wine Society as 'the most accessibly source' of the wines on this shore.

Vineyard at Domaine d’Alzipratu, in the Corse-Calvi appellation and below Pierre Acquaviva Vineyard at Domaine d’Alzipratu, in the Corse-Calvi appellation and below Pierre Acquaviva

Try Corsican wines that age graciously There are places where grapes grow that are remote, idyllic: vineyards where simply to see them makes you want to drink the wine they produce. Domaine d’Alzipratu is one of them. The estate is barely a 10-minute drive from the bustling beaches around Calvi on Corsica’s northern coast – you can see them beyond the vines. But here rather than there is why the “isle de beauté” title remains so truly deserved.

Pierre Acquaviva Pierre Acquaviva

Domaine d’Alzipratu is very recent in Corsica’s millennialong wine history. It was established in 1968 and since 1991 has been run by Pierre Acquaviva, who has doubled its size from the 20 hectares tended by his father in partnership with its founder.

In many ways, this place typifies what modern Corsican wine is all about. The emphasis is on vine varieties grown on the island since the Greeks and Romans poured grape juice into terracotta amphoras to bubble away and become wine (Acquaviva, inveterate experimenter, has just made a wine that way). And quality wine, whatever the material of the container in which it is fermented, is the aim – an aim shared by the 100 or so other individual growers and four cooperatives.

Steep hillside vineyards on the island of Corsica

Steep hillside vineyards on the island of Corsica

The scale of wine production on Corsica is small, and 40 per cent of the total 50 million bottles never leave the island – rosé, especially, is happily consumed by the five million tourists. The rest is shared roughly between France and the export market – North Americans, in both the US and Canada, are the thirstiest. Enough reaches the UK for any wine lover with a taste for the usual and often special to access a decent choice of bottles (suggestions will be in next week’s column).

It’s intriguing that most of the quality wines of Corsica, whatever colour, have the potential to age graciously, even though they can change character radically from youthful, easy, fruity freshness to robust individuality. That potential can be true even of rosés – I remember on my first visit to the island meeting one very serious grower who refused to release his for a minimum or two years after harvest. They merited the wait.

The increasing impatience of the present-day wine market acts to the disadvantage of Corsican reds particularly, says Eric Poli, president of the CIVC, the professional committee charged to cherish and promote all the island’s wines. Both he and Pierre Acquaviva, who heads the committee responsible for Corsica’s appellation protegée (AP) wines, are arguing for new regulations requiring a minimum 24 months’ ageing for all AP reds. While there is general support among the vignerons, the difficulty, says Poli somewhat ruefully, “is to agree exactly the way of doing that”.

Idyllic vineyards in Corsica with a mountainous backdrop

Idyllic vineyards in Corsica with a mountainous backdrop

Corsican Winemaker, Eric Poli Corsican Winemaker, Eric Poli

Changes tend to happen slowly in Corsica, but Poli seems hopeful this one will materialise, as has the huge improvement in quality over recent years.

Small and beautiful is the policy now, a stark contrast to the decades from the 1960s when droves of French escapees from newly-independent Algeria – many Corsicans among them – planted international grape varieties with abandon and cropped them at levels which produced wine massively inferior to today’s delights.

Wines that are as lovely as the view

Corsica, certainly, has wines to match the beauty of the landscape. So now for the practicalities of how to buy these unique and greatly enjoyable bottles.

Easily the most accessible source here is The Wine Society, with nine wines currently listed plus at least four more coming soon. There are examples from Pierre Acquaviva’s Domaine d’Alzipratu and Eric Poli’s Clos Alivu among them, but let’s start with the man who besides being one of Corsica’s most idiosyncratic characters makes some of its most-desired wine.

The vineyards of Antoine Arena – now divided between father and his two sons, better to avoid family disagreements, as Antoine’s wife Marie smilingly told me – lie in the Patrimonio region, the first in Corsica to be granted appellation controlée status (appellation protegée is the title now).

Arena family vineyard in Patrimonio Arena family vineyard in Patrimonio

Here the soils are limestonebased rather than the granite/ schist predominance over most of the island. And what limestone: outside the Arena cellar lies a slab full of the largest fossil seashells I’ve ever seen in wine territory.

Antoine Arena makes natural wines, an adjective with mixed interpretations. Some see it as a lazy way out; serious practitioners believe it keeps the elemental character of their wines: they avoid chemicals anywhere along the production process, encourage fermentation by naturally-present yeasts, bottle without filtering and use the minimum of protective but flavournumbing sulphites.

Simply, Arena argues, let the grapes speak: “If you have good grapes and the cellar is clean, the wine makes itself.”

'If you have good grapes and the cellar is clean, the wine makes itself.'

In his wines, those grapes are native to Corsica, notably niellucciu for the reds. Chianti’s sangiovese shares the same genetic origin, but the island versions are quite different. Embedded in my tasting memory is Morta Maio 2011 (£22). Dark, concentrated, yet fresh, it has niellucciu’s old-leathery scent alongside rich fruit, huge character on the palate and a longmemorable finish where ripe but still almost sour cherries predominate.

Red grapes on the vine in Corsica

Red grapes on the vine in Corsica

Biancu Gentile 2012 (£22), with citrus edge and great length, is from a vine probably introduced by the Greeks or Romans and now grown nowhere else. Antoine Arena is largely responsible for its re-emergence – it’s one of several long-ignored varieties which the Corsican viticultural research organisation believes have excellent modern potential.

Last of the present trio is a classy, grapescented Muscat de Cap Corse 2012 (£16), sweet but not at all syrupy.

From Domaine d’Alzipratu, current listings are 2012 white and 2013 red Fiumeseccu (£10.95/£12.95), whose name evokes the waterless river alongside the estate. The white (vermentino) is zesty and long-lasting; the red (niellucciu-led four-grape blend) is a perfect summer lunchtime wine, best served cool. Pumente white and red, more serious and ageworthy, will join them shortly.

Eric Poli makes a tempting selection of wines from several locations in the north of Corsica, and The Society's wise choices come from his estate up in Patrimonio's wild hills.

Clos Alivu Blanc 2013 (£12.95), vermentino, is delicious: flowers, citrus, and a refreshing near-saltiness; the very aromatic Clos Alivu Rouge 2013 (£12.95), niellucciu, is stylish, serious, yet appealingly approachable.

Also available: happy, excellent-value Terra Nostra Nielluccio 2013 (£7.95) and summer-in-a-glass The Society’s Corsican Rosé 2014 (£8.75).

Liz Sagues 2011 Louis Roederer Regional Wine Writer of the Year
Hampstead & Highgate Express 10th July 2015

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