Corsican Wines–Part 1 – Patrimonio

Let’s talk story about Corsica & its wines.  My wife, cousin & I recently visited the island of Corsica, landing in the north & traversing the countryside down to the town of Bonifacio in the south.

I had a wine, Clos Nicrosi from a producer, Luigi, way back when & have wanted to go visit because of how interesting, unique & “otherworldly” it smelled & tasted.  I was completely captivated & it had been at the top of my wine bucket list since.  30 plus years.

So, after 27 hours of planes & airports, we landed in the city of Bastia, in the north eastern part of the island.  Rather than touring the city, its cathedrals & old port, we set out early morning westward to the Patrimonio wine appellation.  It was truly remarkable how once you leave the city limits & get into the countryside how remote & seemingly uncivilized it is.  One can drive for hours upon hours & see only hills, mountains, wild shrub & rocks jutting out everywhere.

Our first stop was at Yves Leccia.  The Leccia family have been growing grapes & making wine in the Patrimonio for generations.  Yves split off on his own in 2004 & today produces some of the most elegant, refined, sophisticated wines out of the rugged Patrimonio AOC.  He is a firm believer in his “E Croce” parcels–where there is a thin clay chalk layer resting upon a bedrock of schist just 1 meter or 2 down below.  He works with indigenous Corsican grape vines such as Vermentino & Biancu Gentile for white wine, Muscat for dessert style whites & Niellucciu, Sciaccarellu & Minustellu for red wines (although he has recently added some Grenache to his repertoire, for finesse & more roundness).  His wine portfolio includes 2 main labels–YL I.G.P Île de Beauté–Blanc, Biancu Gentile, Rosé; a Rouge & a very special “O Ba” red bottling…..& a set labeled as AOC Patrimonio–Blanc, Rosé & Rouge.  In each case, his wines are in fact wonderfully elegant, refined, pure & surprisingly classy.

Our next stop was with the Arena family, also in the Patrimonio appellation.  Patriarch, Antoine Arena, is one of the most iconic, revered wine vignerons in all of Corsica.  His domaine vineyard holdings have now been split between he & his 2 sons (Antoine Marie & Jean Baptiste).  Moving forward there will therefore be THREE labels now–Antoine Arena; Antoine Marie Arena & Jean Baptiste Arena, each using grapes from their split of the estate & done via the family style (with a few adjustments here & there, which I would venture to say, will continue to grow as time goes on).  Their vineyard holdings are some of the most breathtaking & eye catching that we saw in Corsica.  Spectacular, to say the least.  It starts with the Morta Maio parcel–clay, limestone & schist–2 hectares planted to Niellucciu (planted in 2001)–which goes to the Antoine Arena label; & 1 hectare of Vermentino (planted in 2014)–which goes to the Jean Baptiste Arena label.  The Griotte di Sole parcel, one of the domaine’s oldest holdings dating back to the 18th Century, is south facing (great sun exposure).  The 2 hectares of Niellucciu are 60 plus year old vines & the 1 hectare of Vermentino was planted in 1991 (wild yeast fermented in concrete).  The Carco parcel–east facing, with limestone, chalk, clay soils, was planted in 1987–2 hectares to Niellucciu (wild yeast fermented in concrete & then partially aged in old barrels–350 liters, 600 & 800 liters & the rest concrete up to 2 years) & 1 hectare planted to Vermentino (wild yeast fermented in concrete, 7 months aging on fine lees & typically 100% malolactic).  Their most recent addition is their Haut de Carco planting, which is a very steep, hillside planting directly above Carco–roughly 1 hectare–of a much harder, thicker limestone, planted in 2003.  (They in fact had to use blasting powder & heavy equipment to clear the land & blast holes to plant their vines, as nothing really grew well there previously).  What a vineyard site to behold!  Antoine Marie Arena also has a 1/2 hectare parcel of Morta Maio named Memoria–90 year old vines planted in red schist soils, which he produces maybe 1000 bottles of in any given vintage (fermented in concrete & aged in 8 years old, 350 liter barrels).  They also have a 1 hectare parcel which lies between Griotte di Sole & Carco of clay limestone soils where they planted the rarely seen Biancu Gentile native grape variety in 1996.  In addition they have a small 3 hectare parcel of calcareous, schist soils where they planted Muscat a Petite Grains–for their Muscat du Cap Corse cuvee–a low yielding parcel which is then fortified with Corsican grappa to produce a surprisingly delicate, wonderfully perfumed, minerally, uplifting dessert style white wine.  The wines are some of the very best from the island & deserve all of the major hype & acclaim they perennially receive. Their plantings are on this hillside.






We also tried to stop & see Giacometti–in Patrimonio, but in an area named the Agriate Desert.  While the area is very remote & semi arid, it is not at all like the Sahara desert & its completely barren, wind swept series of sand dunes.  It really is a wild countryside, with very little evidence of civilization.  I was told it is 4 1/2 hours of rugged four wheeling to get to the vineyard.   We valiantly tried but turned around after a while because the road was just too jagged & gnarly for our SUV.  The wines are good, interesting, very savory & intriguingly rustic.  Next time, maybe.

We did try other wines from the area, but nothing was nearly as good as what we had from these 3.

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