Corsica l'Ile de Beauté - Part Two

Second stop, via a tortuous route up and over the Col de Teghime in the centre of Cap Corse to the village of Patrimonio, which gives its name to the appellation, was at the winery of Antoine Arena.

Travels in wine - Corsica 2015

60-year-old Antoine and his wife Marie own four vineyards – Carco, Hauts de Carco (a new vineyard created in 2005), Grotte di Sole (Sunny Grotto, so named because the shadows cast in and around the cave acted as a sundial to the local shepherds) and Morta Maio. They are in the process of organising their own retirement, having split the vineyards between their two sons Jean-Baptiste and Antoine-Marie. 'Two separate companies will avoid intra-family disputes in the running of the business,' says Antoine. (Personally I can't see him ever fully leaving them alone nor keeping his counsel, whether the sons want him to or not! He is one of the real characters in the wine industry).

On the day we tasted 27 Arena wines. Antoine led us a merry dance from vat to vat, making sense out of what appeared to be a rather chaotic layout in the cellar, and even he seemed to lose his way on occasion! Dodgy cellar navigation apart, it was a fascinating odyssey that took us through some very good wines indeed. Tasting the 2014s in vat and barrel, and comparing to 2011 and 2012 in bottle enabled us to ascertain how the new wines should develop.

Antoine was instrumental in the resurrection of bianco gentile as a variety, and the wines we tasted were delightfully fresh and lifted in a citrus style (including the one mentioned above soon to be listed). While made to be drunk young, they age well too, as we discovered when tasting a 2007 which had taken on weight and richness with a quince character.

We could have stayed all day talking and tasting, and indeed Antoine was most disappointed that we couldn't stay for lunch, as it had already been organised at our next appointment. Given his generosity and loquaciousness I dread to think how we would have ended up at the lunch table. As it was we left 45 minutes later than planned because of his insistence that we tasted some of the wines derrière les fagots (behind the woodpile), that is to say those wines he will never sell but which he keeps for personal consumption. These included:

  • A 2003 late-harvest vermentino picked with a potential alcohol of 23%, then left in a barrel outdoors for a year before being brought in to the cellar – rich, sweet and absolutely delicious – Madeira-like, even though unfortified.
  • An old-vine version of the above from 83-year-old vines (which have since been grubbed up) blended with younger grapes from the Carco vineyard, vinified in a large barrel then placed in small barrels right at the back of the cellar. There is only one barrel left of this luscious, deep brown, sweet oloroso-like wine which has lovely lifted acidity. Antoine only dips into it very occasionally when serving it to 'honoured guests'.
  • A muscat, again from 2003, picked in November at 35% potential alcohol. Although unfortified, it is very similar in taste to a Rutherglen muscat from Victoria in Australia (a wine that Antoine, interestingly, had never heard of!).

After this visit, which left us rushing off and Antoine wishing we didn't have to, we moved on to the halfway point of the tour, arriving in the picturesque port of Saint-Florent on the west side of the Cap Corse. Waiting in his wine shop to greet us was Eric Poli of Clos Alivu and his wife Marie-Brigitte. We have been listing his Patrimonio wines for a while now, and currently list the Patrimonio Blanc, Clos Alivu 2013. We tasted the 2014 versions of the white from tank (vermentino – very easy-going and attractive, rich in style with a fresh mineral edge and a very long finish of crisp green apple and pear and rosé) and the rosé (90% nielluccio, c. 5% sciaccarello, c.5% vermentino – well integrated, light in character, displaying lively red fruit and already very moreish).

The red was the 2013 vintage made from 100% nielluccio. It was still tight and tannic, but with a lovely savoury edge to the lightly sour raspberry and plum flavours. Nielluccio needs a year or two to start showing its true colours. While not generally built for great longevity, Eric told us of a 1985 he recently drank at home which was still on excellent form.

We also tried some of his single variety IGP Île de Beauté wines. I particularly enjoyed the crunchy and savoury red fruit of the sciaccarello, as well as the peach- and pear-laced bianco gentile which he classifies as a simple Vin de France. He says that 'with not so many rules and regulations around for this, I can play with it more in the vineyard and the winery.'

A brief stroll to the marina and it was time for a rather hefty and long but quite delicious lunch of typical Corsican fare (majoring on charcuterie, ewe's cheese and chestnuts), with a vermentino and nielluccio from the Ajaccio appellation (which were ok, but not a patch on the wines we were tasting during the day). We had a spectacular drive south through the mountains and the maquis and along the dramatic north-western coastline which included an interesting traffic jam before once more heading for the hills.

Rush hour in northern Corsica…

Where to go next?

Corsica, Île de Beauté – Part Three >

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