Wed 17 Oct 2012

A Corsican Foray


CorsicaThis is the beach at Lumio and, across the bay, the citadel that guards it and the town of Calvi. Less than hour before, my plane was landing on the runway that serves the town’s little airport. By the evening, I was on first name terms with all the great and the good of the area, mayors, presidents of wine syndicates, even the commanding officer of a Foreign Legion regiment that is based in Calvi. Not to mention his charming wife. Things seem to happen fast on the Isle de Beauté…

What followed was two days of intensive eating and tasting, interspersed with slow, scenic drives. The food is worthy of note because it was exceptionally good, with wonderful seafood, cheeses and, above all, hams and sausages that placed the wines into context perfectly.

And so to the heart of the matter: the wines. As in any walk of life, one tries to avoid preconceptions. Corsican wines enjoy a mixed reputation, rather like the wines of Provence. Production is not large and is easily consumed locally and by the hordes of thirsty tourists. History also plays its part.

Viticulture in Corsica is as old as its civilisation but, for most of that time, on a small scale. Grapevines were just another crop which farmers shared with other fruits, cereals and livestock, and even fishing. Since the war, the biggest change came following Algerian independence, when hundreds of French expats settled in Corsica. Viticulture was greatly increased but often the grapes that were planted were those found in Algeria or other areas of France. It is amazing to see so much chardonnay, chenin and pinot noir, also syrah and carignan.

Luckily when the appellations were created for Corsica, the base for all the wines would be provided by three traditional varieties. For the white, only vermentino could be used, except in the north where an especially fine and delicate vin doux naturel is made from muscat. For the reds and rosé, the varieties are nielluccio, none other than the Tuscan sangiovese, and sciacarello.

Corsica is a complicated place, and not just for its politics! The combination of sea and high mountains means that there are countless nuances of terroirs which growers are only now beginning to appreciate. Most of those I spoke to starting with Etienne Suzzoni at Clos Culombu are all starting to conduct geological surveys of their vineyards.

From studies already conducted, two things emerge. First is the realisation that not all varieties are planted in the right places. Secondly, there are a whole load of grape varieties that were forgotten when the appellation was created but which in many cases were important. My two days on Corsican soil also included wines from these forgotten grapes, and what wonderful wines they proved to be.

I didn’t come back empty-handed and brought back a small selection of wines gathered from between Calvi and Patrimonio in the north of the island which members will be able to savour.

I shall need to go back!

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer


  1. Melissa Clarke says:

    Do go back, it’s a wonderful place! Wonderful traditional food and excellent knowledgeable wine selection to be found in Porto Vecchio at Cantina di l’Orriu. We always drink Corsican wine when we stay on the island – good value red from Domaine de Torraccia amongst many others… Enjoyed reading the article and look forward to finding out about the wines you selected.

  2. Geoff Shepherd says:

    Corsica is on my bucket list and your article and Melissa’s comments have just moved it higher up!
    Sounds wonderful and so much to explore but wondering what are the best places to base oneself… bearing in mind the great scenery is magically enhanced by wonderful local wine and vittles! Any suggestions ?

  3. Keith Dixon says:

    I am currently researching Corsica and its wines for a presentation I am giving at the end of february to the Teignbridge Wine Society. I would appreciate any information which would assist me in this task or references as to where to get detailed facts and figures.
    Thank you

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