During 2016 I had the pleasure of going wine hunting in five satellites: Pays Basque, Catalonia, Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily. I imagine them breaking the colonial chains that bind and forming a United Independent States for strength in numbers while controlling their own destinies. Corsica has been free only a handful of years during recorded history. And we think our political situation stinks?
Imagine, what if you were Corsican with a Roman name like Arena, and every move you made was controlled by French bureaucrats? Yikes, no, you wouldn’t dig it.
Speaking of Arena... I’m not sure why, but Antoine Arena’s 2015 rosé comes to mind. Antoine is the one who first showed the world how great Corsican wine can be. I tasted with him and his two sons this summer, and their rosé caught me by surprise, because they did everything right in the making of it, according to me. I’m sure you’ll see how different it is from the technological Provençal rosés that are so hip these days. For those interested: native yeasts, malo completed, gently bottled without filtration. Wow! Nor was it hurried into bottle to meet some arbitrary, springtime Rosé “Nouveau” release date.
Taste it alongside almost any Côtes-de-Provence rosé—it’s like comparing real wine with pink lace panties.
Antoine himself is so genuine, he is a favorite of everybody in the wine biz who has had the luck to spend time with him. He and his sons work together and sell the results under three separate Arena labels: Antoine, Jean-Baptiste, and Antoine-Marie. Please don’t ask me why. I asked them and ended up more puzzled than I had been. Just know that, yes, when you uncork one of their wines—this rosé, for example—you are in for an honest wine and a real treat. –Kermit Lynch
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.
I want you to realize once and for all: Even the winemaker does not know what aging is going to do to a new vintage; Robert Parker does not know; I do not know. We all make educated (hopefully) guesses about what the future will bring, but guesses they are. And one of the pleasures of a wine cellar is the opportunity it provides for you to witness the evolution of your various selections. Living wines have ups and downs just as people do, periods of glory and dog days, too. If wine did not remind me of real life, I would not care about it so much.
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