Much has been said about how a small group of dedicated vignerons saved Bianco Gentile from extinction. What hasn’t been discussed much is that, while we know the variety is native Corsican and was once widely planted, we really don’t know how it was used and what kind of wine it made. Over the last decade or two, growers have been getting reacquainted with this long-lost friend, figuring out its strengths and weaknesses and how to tease out its greatness. Vermentinu, by contrast, has been around uninterrupted in the Mediterranean just about as long as the wheel. Its charms—the saltiness, the verve, the island essence—have been known to all for ages. Bianco Gentile has been on a learning curve, and in wine, that process can take years (generations, even), so we are watching it unfold as we speak. There’s only one harvest a year, a single chance to see, taste, and experiment each cycle. Part of that learning process concerns the interaction of grapes with each other, the art of blending so that the diversity makes a more complete whole. A key to understanding Bianco Gentile’s past may be hidden here in this blend. Kermit noticed early on Bianco Gentile’s tendency to veer toward the plump, round, rich side of the spectrum. So he and Antoine Arena decided to blend together a tank of Vermentinu and a tank of Bianco Gentile. Half and half, as one isn’t better than the other, they’re simply so different. Like a great bassist or a great guitarist, or a world-class tenor compared to a soprano. Neither is better per se, but the two performing together perhaps provides the richest experience. The two grapes work so well together we have to wonder if this was the way things were done back in the day. Given Antoine’s enthusiasm, we may well see a lot more of this blending in the future. Notice the new label, too, which is fittingly inspired by a label Antoine’s father once used. To show his appreciation of Kermit for encouraging the blend, Arena has named it “Cuvée Kermit Lynch” and given us full exclusivity on the wine. The only place you can try it is here—or maybe at the domaine, if you have the good fortune to go there, and if they haven’t drunk the last of their personal stock already.
Antoine Arena, like most Corsicans of his generation, grew up in a family that earned a modest living working the land on an island largely unknown to the outside world. To survive there, Antoine knew he would need to show the world outside of Corsica what Patrimonio wine was capable of. And so his mission began to make the best his land could make and to spread the word. He started identifying the best parcels and vinifiying them separately, worked the vines organically and vinified without added sulfur. Antoine and his wife Marie worked tirelessly to put Patrimonio on the map, and with quite a success. They brought fame and respect to their appellation, recognized nearly unanimously as being the best there is on the island.
I first set foot on the island in 1980. I remember looking down from the airplane window seeing alpine forest and lakes and thinking, uh oh, I got on the wrong plane. Then suddenly I was looking down into the beautiful waters of the Mediterranean. Corsica is a small, impossibly tall island, the tail of the Alp chain rising out of the blue sea.—Kermit Lynch
Kermit’s first trip to the island proved fruitful, with his discovery of Clos Nicrosi’s Vermentino. More than thirty years later, the love affair with Corsica has only grown as we now import wines from ten domaines that cover the north, south, east, and west of what the French affectionately refer to as l’Île de Beauté.
Corsica is currently experiencing somewhat of a renaissance—interest has never been higher in the wines and much of this is due to growers focusing on indigenous and historical grapes found on the island. Niellucciu, Sciarcarellu, and Vermentinu are widely planted but it is now common to find bottlings of Biancu Gentile and Carcaghjolu Neru as well as blends with native varieties like Rossola Bianca, Minustellu, or Montaneccia.
As Kermit described above, Corsica has a strikingly mountainous landscape. The granite peaks top out above 9,000 feet. The terroir is predominantly granite with the exception of the Patrimonio appellation in the north, which has limestone, clay, and schist soils.The wines, much like their southern French counterparts make for great pairings with the local charcuterie, often made from Nustrale, the native wild boar, as well as Brocciu, the Corsican goats milk cheese that is best served within 48 hours of it being made.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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