I’ve always had a soft spot for the island of Corsica, ever since my very first visit, when I left London on a typical grey drizzly February morning and arrived in Ajaccio to find spring sunshine and the almond trees and mimosa in flower. So I leapt at the opportunity to attend a tasting of Corsican wines hosted by Olivier Poussier, who has received various accolades as a top sommelier and writes a regular column for Revue du Vin de France.
He was highly articulate, speaking with great enthusiasm about the island’s wines. He wanted to emphasise the diversity of grape varieties, and especially the indigenous varieties. Corsica has numerous advantages for growing grapes. It enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with the added benefit of the sea breezes. The terrain is semi-mountainous, with twenty mountains that reach over 1000 metres, and the vineyards enjoy significant temperature differences between day and nighttime. And with the exception of Patrimonio which is limestone, the soil is either granite or schist. Both give acidity, and energy to the wine, and to grape varieties, such as Vermentino that may lack acidity, but in Corsica can produce wonderful minerality. Vermentino is one of the oldest grape varieties of the Mediterranean, and known on the island as Malvoisie de Corse. And initially I was surprised that Olivier placed greater emphasis on the white wines of Corsica in preference to the reds, but he definitely has a point. The Vermentino in the tasting that follows displayed some lovely original flavours.
2010 Clos Alivu, Patrimonio
Light colour. Quite sappy salty nose, soft acidity but with a nice mineral note and a touch of saltiness. Oliver suggested agrumes or citrus notes, as well as white blossom such as hawthorn. The wine was fresh and balanced.
2011 Domaine de Granajolo, AOC Corse Porto-Vecchio
Vermentino grown on granite soil. A 20 hectare estate created in 1970. Organic. Quite a rounded nose with a firm mineral palate. Good structure and good length. ‘Less exuberant fruit’
2010 Clos Culombu, Ribbe Rosse Blanc, AOC Corse Calvi
An experiment with Vermentino fermented in oak. The oak was very apparent on both nose and palate, but there was some fruit underneath, and oak gave the wine a certain texture. Personally I would prefer it without oak, but it did have a rounded satisfying quality about it. Apparently they are considering some larger oak barrels, and they also wanted to show that Vermentino could age.
2010 Clos Canarelli, Corse Figari
An intriguing herbal nose with a touch of oak on the palate. This was more successful, a vinification in oak, without losing any tipicity. The granite soil provides tension. There was minerality and length, with texture, weight and volume. I liked this a lot. Olivier explained how the work in the vineyard – this is biodynamic – makes for weight and body in the wine.
2009 Domaine de Torraccia Oriu Blanc, Corse Porto Vecchio
More Vermentino – this underwent a malo-lactic fermentation. A little colour. Beginning to mature on the nose. Quite rounded leafy mature notes; some herbal fruit; elegant nuances ageing well with good acidity. A hint of bitterness on the finish – grapefruit skins.
2007 Clos Venturi white
An estate inland, with relatively high vineyards at 400 metres, and facing north. A little colour. A slightly resinous character on the nose and more so on the palate. Quite dry nutty fruit, with some salty notes and some firm minerality. Quite intriguing.
2010 Domaine de la Punta, Bianco Gentile
A change of grape variety here – Bianco Gentile is one of the lost Corsican varieties, and attempts are being made to revive it. It is generally fatter and riper than Vermentino. This was fermented in oak, and had some light nutty notes on both nose and palate, coming from some subtle use of oak. For Oliver the oak reins in the wine, giving it a firm backbone. Intriguingly understated.
2011 Domaine Sant Armettu, Rosumarinu Rosé, Corse Sartène
Pure Sciacarello, an originally Corsican variety. And pressed, rather than saigné. Very pale pretty colour. Some cherry fruit on the nose, and more raspberry on the palate. Quite vinous palate with herbal notes. Quite elegant. The finesse comes from the granite soil. Quite a long finish.
2011 Clos Teddi, Patrimonio Grande cuvée rosé
Delicate pale pink. Quite a delicate nose. Quite rounded, nicely vinous but elegant palate, balanced with good acidity.
2009 Domaine Giacometti, Cru des Agriates rouge
Olivier observed that Patrimonio is best when there is no water stress. In 2009 the Nielluccio was very ripe, but stressed and the result was a rather jammy wine with a streak of bitter tannins. Medium colour. Quite a confit ripe nose, with a rather jammy palate. Overripe. Vividly demonstrating the difficulty of making red wine on Corsica.
2009 Clos Canarelli, Corse Figari
Quite deep colour. Intriguing fruit on nose and palate. Medium weight. No confit or jam. Some elegant tannins giving backing, with some leathery fruit. Quite cedary with herbal hints and a touch of pepper. Elegant finish. A blend of Nielluccio, Sciacarello and Syrah, aged in barrel. Beautifully balanced and satisfying. This worked so much better.
2008 Domaine Leccia, Patrimonio
A contrast, with no water stress. Medium colour, a little development. A hint of cherries on the nose and on the palate some elegant fruit, balanced with a tannic streak and a touch of acidity. Elegant, with some garrigues notes and a wild streak, a côté sauvage. Nielluccio without the rustic tannins. Grown on clay and limestone.
2008 Domaine Leccia, Muscat du Cap Corse
Olivier explained how there are two styles of Muscat from Cap Corse, those from grapes grown on schist from vineyards on the Cap, and those from Patrimonio, grown on limestone. Here the residual sugar is 95 gms/l as opposed to the more usual 120 gms/l. The grapes are passerillé and the fermenting juice muté sur grains. Quite a deep golden colour. Lovely fruit; ripe and intense. Bitter oranges and mandarin. A lovely finish to a fascinating tasting, which amply demonstrated that Corsica deserves a much wider audience.