Corsica, Île de Beauté – Part Three

Domaine Alzipratu

The sun was setting as we arrived 90 minutes late (see part two) for our penultimate stop of the day to visit Pierre Acquaviva at Domaine Alzipratu in the Corse-Calvi appellation. Pierre's state-of-the-art winery contains wines not only in stainless steel vat and barrel, but also in amphorae and concrete eggs as he experiments with different styles of wine. Those of you into Corsican wines will already be acquainted with Pierre's classically made Pumonte and cuvée Fiumeseccu wines.

Domaine Alzipratu

We first tried tank samples of Fiumeseccu Blanc 2014 (long, with lemon & grapefruit to the fore, and an attractive citrus pithiness) and Pumonte Blanc 2014 (tighter, with tropical fruit and a delicate herbal layer). The rosé versions, each a blend of sciaccarello with some grenache, were long, fresh and fruity. The Fiumeseccu Rouge 2014 had been taken from the individual vats and hand blended to give an idea of what it may taste like (easy to drink, smooth and velvety with plum and liquorice character), while the Pumonte 2013 has already spent a year in oak vats. It was still hard to work out at this early stage, with its tight tannic structure, but there is plenty of freshly scented light red fruit to come to the fore in time.

Vincent and Pierre taking wine from an amphora

We then moved on to some of the more experimental wines. Alticielo 2013 is a micro cuvée of a field blend of 60-year-old vines. They are not yet quite sure what all the grape varieties are, but having been fermented and aged in concrete eggs (no corners, so the natural flow of the wine inside the vessel is smooth and continuous), the resulting wine is round with rich, savoury and fresh red fruit flavours and a silky texture. Inizeu 2013 is 100% nielluccio from a single 3,000 m2 plot of vines, also in concrete egg. It's very smooth indeed with raspberry flavours and a firm yet soft tannic structure. It tastes like it has been in wood and yet it hasn't seen any at all. At 15.6% abv, it's not for the faint-hearted, but it is a lot of fun in a glass.

Lume 2013 is a vermentino blended from vat-aged and oak-aged wine. The result is a coconut-laden nose leading to a tight vanilla coated palate of grapefruit zest. Wonderfully different and refreshing. We tried Lume 2014 (yet to be blended) from vat, amphora and barrel. While the amphora version on its own was very rich and almost oily in texture, and wasn't a good drink on its own, as an element of the blend it will add body, texture and much interest to the resulting wine.

Eggs, vats and barrels

A brief, but very informative and exciting tasting from a very dynamic grower who is going places. Pierre, with his young new winemaker Vincent, is definitely one to watch.

Our final appointment was also in the Calvi appellation with Etienne Suzzoni at Clos Culombu. London members may have met Etienne at one of our Wine Fair tastings back in 2009.The main purpose of this visit was to blend The Society's Corsican Rosé 2014, but there were also plenty of other wines to taste. We warmed up for the rosé blending with five whites – all vermentino, one of which was barrel-fermented. They all showed exquisite balance, as did the three rosés we tasted. (At the time of writing, we currently the excellent Corse Calvi Clos Culombu Rosé 2014.)

Clos Culombu's Etienne Suzzoni

It was then time to blend. Etienne and his winemakers had selected four vats, each full of wine from a different vineyard which they believed held the elements key to making a blend that would suit members' palates. Etienne told us the quantities available from each vat, which would clearly have an impact on quite how much of each wine we could put into the blend (although as it happened, we didn't have to go beyond what Etienne had made available in order to make the amount we need).

We proceeded to taste the wine from each vat in turn, noting its character and how it may assist in the final blend: vat 3 (fatness and a broad fruit-filled finish); vat 13 (perfumed nose, structure, up-front fruit hit and great length); vat 27 (freshness and minerality); vat 46 (red fruit flavour and richness).

The first blend was 40% vat 3, and 30% each of vats 13 and 27. [see pic] We then tried dropping vat 13 for vat 46, but the blend lost its perfume and structure and went over the top in flavour and richness. We then split 13 and 46 with 15% each, but the wine lacked a little freshness. So an extra dollop (5%) of vat 27 was added, and 5% taken away from vat 46 – hey presto! The wine was blended at only the fourth pass (is that a record?), to unanimous approval of the six there present.

(I for one can't wait to get my taste buds round the finished article. Just before leaving for Corsica, and purely for research purposes, you understand, my wife and I drank a bottle of the 2013 between us over two nights at home. The wine was fresh and still firm, and went extremely well as an aperitif, and then with our mildly spiced fruit and couscous stuffed baked chicken. Bring on 2014!)

After having agreed on the blend, we discussed closures. As last time, Marcel requested Diam, which was fine by Etienne. We did say that in an ideal world we would prefer screwcap. Etienne countered that as 80% of his production stays on the island, and the Corsicans demand traditional closures, he wouldn't be investing in the necessary machinery but that his son, who is soon to join the business, would doubtless have different ideas – proof of Eric Poli's earlier prediction of the changes coming with the younger generation.

Etienne's brother Paul piped up with his reason for cork being his closure of choice. Three years ago a conference and dinner had been held at the winery. The guest of honour was the then French employment minister Xavier Bertrand, He was making a pre-dinner speech that was going on and on and on… the listeners were beginning to nod off, the food was ready and near to spoiling. Paul opened a bottle with a corkscrew, very loudly. The minister turned, said 'Ah, it must be time for me to sit down' and promptly did. 'With a screwcap bottle we'd have still been here!' says Paul.

We finished our tasting with a vertical of Etienne's top red wines, named Ribbe Rosso, which means 'red clay' in the local dialect, although the clay is more ochre in colour].

2014: sciaccarello element of the blend – a flinty aroma but a firm red fruit structure balanced with the alcohol and a dusting of white pepper flavours.

2014: nielluccio element – sweet and ripe and beautiful, a very pretty baby.

2013: from barrel, great freshness, bright red fruits

2012: polished oak, bright red fruits, long finish and a solid complex structure. One for the long term.

2011: Chewy with forward red fruits. Delicious.

2010: Fresh, tasted younger than the 2011.

2009: Richer and rounder, made in concrete tank. Warming dark fruits, a little spice and liquorice.

2008: Looked a little past it, smelled sweet but tasted dry.

2006: More Rhône-like than Italianate. It's drying out a little now, and comes from the old cellar where conditions were warmer, and so the wines aged a little more quickly.

2005: there were widespread fires in the maquis that year – the smoke taint in the wine is very pronounced, increasingly so as the fruit dries out leaving other flavour elements to the fore.

2004: The first vintage. We didn't taste it. None left!

Vincent and Pierre taking wine from an amphora

It was late – we'd been either on the road or tasting (104 wines) for 12 hours, and it was time to go to dinner with Pierre from Alzipratu and Etienne and his team in the port of Calvi. It was 6 hours after that Corsica feast of a lunch with Eric, and we still weren't very hungry, but we talked some more and learned a lot more about Corsica and the wines from this jewel of an island.

I would thoroughly recommend that you visit the Île de Beauté, a name that it fully lives up to. Both Clos Columbu and Domaine Alzipratu are particularly well set up to welcome people to their estates with their brand new wineries and tasting facilities, so what are you waiting for?

Ewan Murray
PR Manager

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