Bottles of paradise

A brief introduction to the wines of Corsica…

In Corsica, the regional wine is designated ‘Vin de Pays d’Île de Beauté’. Now a level of provincial pride is to be expected in France, but naming your region the ‘Island of Beauty’ takes some beating. But in reality it’s actually an understatement; Corsica is jaw-droppingly, heart-stoppingly ravishing.

Travelling the unhurried narrow gauge railway from diminutive capital Ajaccio in the south-west of the island to Bastia in the North is an unforgettable journey through dense forest and around high jagged peaks. Both cities have excellent vinegrowing land nearby, and some of the country’s best wineries. It’s largely around the verdant edges of the island that the grapes are grown however, amongst the fragrant herbal scrubland known as the maquis.

Corsica is sunnier and drier than any part of mainland France. It resides in the Mediterranean, 170km south-east of Nice, just 11km north of Sardinia. Unsurprisingly it feels somewhere between France and Italy, and that’s exactly how the wines taste too.

The dominant red variety is the savoury Nielluccio, identical to the Chianti grape Sangiovese. It is usually blended with another local red variety, the softer and juicier Sciacarello. Neither of these can be found on mainland France. That this island lies further south than the Languedoc, you might reasonably expect the wines to be thick and powerful, but most reds are medium-bodied rather than full, often with a thyme-tinged whisper of maquis.

Vermentino is the principal white grape, and can make refreshingly dry, mineral and aromatic wines which work well with the local seafood. If you like rosé, Corsica should definitely be on your radar. Similar to those of Provence, the best Corsican rosés are dry, subtle in flavour with a lovely silky texture, but are often better value; try Domaine Saparale’s from Sartène, or Clos Culombu’s from Calvi.

Most Corsican wine is best drunk young and fresh, though some estates such as Domaine de Torraccia in Porto-Vecchio in the south-east make more ageworthy reds; their 2006 ‘Oriu’ is still delicious today. Some of the excellent sweet Muscats in the north of the island around Patrimonio can also develop more complexity over the years. Domaine Antoine Arena in Cap Corse makes some of the best.

When exploring the wines of France, it’s easy to forget about little Corsica. It may be justly famous as being one of the most beautiful islands of the Mediterranean, but their charming wines also deserve a look.

First published in Living France magazine.