The Arena sons are as eager to think outside the box and execute novel ideas as they are to honor the local winemaking traditions that have come to define Corsica. One such tradition, Cap Corse’s celebrated dessert wine, represents one of the most fascinating and intriguing expressions of Muscat in the world. Talk about a sense of place: Muscat grown here seems to soak up the smells of its surroundings to give a uniquely Corsican perfume. It radiates Mediterranean sunshine, suggesting maquis wildflowers along with hints of wild mint and other herbs. Try splashing a dollop of the nectar over a seasonal fruit salad, then pour each of your guests a glass to accompany it—they are sure to be wowed.
The path to becoming a vigneron was a natural one for Jean-Baptiste Arena, son of famed Corsican producer Antoine Arena. Growing up at the family domaine in Patrimonio, Jean-Baptiste enjoyed constant exposure to the wine world, gaining invaluable experience through trips to Parisian wine bars and public tastings with vigneron friends all over Europe. While embracing his father’s respect for the land, Jean-Baptiste also has ideas of his own. “Two new cellars are in the works; mine is destined for stocking and aging, while I will continue to vinify in the family’s historic cellars.” The future is bright for this impassioned young talent, leaving no doubt the Arena legacy will live on through Jean-Baptiste.
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.
For the wines that I buy I insist that the winemaker leave them whole, intact. I go into the cellars now and select specific barrels or cuvées, and I request that they be bottled without stripping them with filters or other devices. This means that many of our wines will arrive with a smudge of sediment and will throw a more important deposit as time goes by, It also means the wine will taste better.
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