I’ve never been to Corsica, but, man, it sounds like paradise to me. Mountains, forests, coastline, and sunshine–what could be bad? Hey, you don’t get the moniker “Île de Beauté” (Isle of Beauty) for nothing. Oh, and Corsica has a winemaking history that dates back around 1,500 years. Are you in?
The island of Corsica seems to pack enormous diversity into its roughly 3,300 square miles, and that includes culture, cuisine, and topography. (“Mosaic” is a commonly used description.) A semi-autonomous region of France for the last 250 years, it owes as much to the Italians as it does to the French. (It’s actually closer to Italy than to France and was previously under the rule of Pisa and then Genoa.)
Reflecting both French and Italian influences, the wines of Corsica offer entirely distinctive, yet completely recognizable drinking experiences. A combination of warm temperatures, limited rainfall, high elevations, and maritime winds provides prime winemaking conditions, and a range of microclimates yields a dazzling array of wines–from elegant and mineral to fleshy and ripe.
For evidence, look no further than the two most acclaimed Corsican appellations: Patrimonio, in the north, with its chalky clay soil, tends to produce rich, textured, aromatic wines, while Ajaccio, to the southwest, turns out graceful, vibrant wines thanks to its persistent breezes, granite soil, and high altitude.
Abbatucci vineyards in Ajaccio.
The Ajaccio appellation is home to one of Corsica’s most renowned houses, Domaine Comte Abbatucci. Sadly, Abbatucci, founded more than 70 years ago, is still reeling from a massive blaze that destroyed much of the winery earlier this year. We are rooting for a speedy recovery, and not only because they produce some of the island’s most memorable bottlings.
The domaine is run by the obsessively biodynamic winemaker Jean-Charles Abbatucci, progeny of a French Revolution hero–and a man who is said to play traditional Corsican music for his, um, vines. (Ajaccio was the birthplace of another French Revolution hero, by the name of Napoleon.) They offer a dozen or so cuvees, in a wide range of styles.
At Paul Marcus Wines, we’re currently enjoying the 2020 Abbatucci Rosé ‘Faustine,’ made from the sciaccarellu grape. Most likely brought over hundreds of years ago from Tuscany (where it’s known as mammolo), sciaccarellu creates cherry-fruited, gently herbaceous, medium-bodied reds with smooth tannins and notes of black pepper. It also has a particular affinity for rosé, as Abbatucci’s offering shows. The wine is savory, salty, and bright; it would be difficult to find a more refreshing and satisfying sipper, yet it will hold its own at the most demanding brunch table.
If you’d like to experience the heights of Corsican winemaking, we have a couple of bottles each of Abbatucci’s higher-end wines: the 2017 Abbatucci ‘Monte Bianco,’ a sciaccarellu red of immense depth and complexity, and the 2016 Abbatucci ‘Diplomate,’ a stimulating, voluptuous blend of Corsican white grapes.
Up north, in the Agriates (considered by many to be Europe’s only true desert), you’ll find Domaine Giacometti, located in the far reaches of the Patrimonio appellation. Their 2020 Domaine Giacometti Patrimonio Rosé ‘Cru des Agriate’ is made from 75 percent niellucciu and 25 percent sciaccarellu, and it balances a generous mouth feel with a dry, clean finish. (Niellucciu, an extremely close relative of sangiovese, is thought by many Corsicans to be an indigenous grape, but it might have, just possibly, been imported from Tuscany also.)
The 2020 Domaine Giacometti Patrimonio Blanc ‘Cru des Agriate’ is a stony, yet textured vermentinu that ages on the lees in stainless steel. Best of all is the 2018 Domaine Giacometti VdF Rouge ‘Sempre Cuntentu,’ a highly quaffable sciaccarellu that requires nothing but two glasses and a friend.
The Sant Armettu winery is situated in the warm, craggy Sartène region, a lesser-known destination south of Ajaccio. The supple 2019 Sant Armettu Corse Sartène Rouge ‘Rosumarinu,’ a sciaccarellu aged in stainless steel, displays plush, dark fruit tempered by vivid acidity–perfect for succulent braised meats. Made from 100 percent vermentinu, the 2019 Sant Armettu Corse Sartène Blanc ‘Rosumarinu’ is structured and serious, with ample stone-fruit flavors.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the 2020 Domaine de Marquiliani ‘Rosé de Pauline,’ a legendary Corsican vin gris that blends sciaccarellu and syrah with a dollop of vermentinu. The result is a feathery, faded-pastel-colored wine with enticing, exotic aromas and a kiss of Mediterranean salinity.
All of these Corsican beauties are available today at PMW, as are several others, including two vintages of Antoine Arena’s Bianco Gentile–full-bodied and lush, yet subtle and sophisticated wines made from an ancient Corsican variety brought back from the edge of extinction. Visit us at the shop to learn more about these unique selections.