The high quality and diversity of Corsican wine are not recent phenomena - the diarist James Boswell noted both in 1769 - just a year after the Genoese ceded the 'Granite Isle' to France, but they have been quite well kept secrets. We were fortunate to be introduced to the island by Corsican expert Dave Abram back in 2005 and have been enjoying its viticultural output ever since.
In the hills of the east coast above Porto Vecchio, the Imbert family's Domaine de Torraccia has been an important enclave of organic winemaking since its pioneering founder Christian Imbert cleared scrubland to plant vines in the mid-1960s. Today, his son Marc presides over the estate producing wines that enjoy a loyal following at home and abroad. His white wine is made from pure Vermentino that is hand-harvested and vinified in thermo-regulated vats. It has evocative wild herb and lemon-balm scents followed by a nervy, citrus-edged palate that has a fine affinity with seafood. A rosé made from a blend of Nielluccio, Sciacarello, Grenache and Cinsault has a salmon-pink hue and bright red berry scents and flavours with a grapefruit-fresh acidity. Marc's main red - in terms of volume - is produced from a blend of 50% Nielluccio (aka Sangiovese), 30% Grenache Noir and 10% each of Sciacarello and Syrah. The finished wine has a briary bouquet with peppery undertones and a core of red and black fruit supported by earthy tannins. It is approachable from release and pairs well with the local charcuterie and pâté. A flagship bottling of red - called Oriu - is blended from 80% Nielluccio and 20% Sciacarello. It is a dense, dark vin de garde that will cellar well for (at least) a decade and is well suited to game and wild mushroom dishes.
On the opposite side of the island in the Ortolo valley below Sartène, Domaine Saparale is just one of 10 estates producing the distinctive local wine. We first encountered patron Philippe Farinelli's red wine when we were served it in situ in a bijou bar and were so enamoured of it we managed to track it to source with the generous assistance of the innkeeper. Further happy discoveries were that Philippe also made some great white and rosé, so all-in-all it was a serendipitous occasion. The Domaine Saparale blanc is made from pure Vermentino and has appealing aromas of bay and rosemary and a ripe orchard fruit palate offset by fresh acidity. A sibling rosé is made from a blend of Nielluccio, Sciacarello and Vermentino and has a coral pink colour, red berry scents, raspberry and redcurrant flavours and a long, elegant finish. Completing the range is the robust red that first captured our attention - it is a blend of 80% Nielluccio and 20% Sciacarello that is matured in oak barrels for 10 months prior to bottling. With a briary bouquet of maquis herbs, blackcurrants and a palate of pitchy dark forest fruit with notes of black pepper and enough tannic grip to support 5 years bottle age, it drinks well from release with wild boar or Brocciu cheese.
On the eastern promontory of the Cap Corse above Luri, Lina Pieretti-Venturi is one of just 5 winemakers producing small volumes of wines that are highly regarded on the island. With free-draining soils, terrific light levels and cooling sea breezes, this is an important outpost of viticulture yielding extremely characterful wines. Her Coteaux du Cap Corse rosé is made from a blend of Alicante and Nielluccio and is redolent of wild strawberries and cranberries with a whistle-clean finish – so is ideal for outdoor imbibing. Lina also makes a fantastic fortified Muscat du Cap Corse – with orange blossom scents and a heady palate of sweet stone-fruit and ripe peaches, it is traditionally drunk as an aperitif.
A welcome, more recent discovery has been Lionel Wojcik's Domaine Paradella in the hills of Patrimonio. His robust red wine is made from pure Nielluccio that is carefully aged in specially-selected 'Radoux' oak barrels for 18 months prior to bottling. With complex plum and myrtle aromas and a dense centre of black fruit, sandalwood and spices supported by firm tannins, it should be decanted in its youth and can be matured for 5-10 years or more. Lionel also makes a white wine from 100% Vermentino grown on elevated clay and limestone soils. It is also raised in barrel and has a deep yellow robe, ripe stone- and exotic fruit scents, coconut and oak sawdust notes and a mineral-edged peach and apricot palate with a long, lusciously-indulgent finish. It is a great food wine and pairs well with fish and poultry in herb-based sauces.