I think you could call Antoine’s Carco blanc the wine that made it all happen. Forty years ago, when Antoine took over his father’s estate, hardly anyone had heard of Patrimonio, and even fewer had anything nice to say about its wines. Antoine set out on a solo mission that consisted of a return to natural farming and winemaking, and getting Patrimonio drunk by those who care, away from the tourists and off the island. Mission accomplished, to put it mildly. After all these years, Arena is the reference point of wine merchants the world over for great Corsican wine. It has done more for Corsica and Patrimonio than anyone could have dreamed of. So what makes Carco so special? The path to greatness is wrought with trials and tribulations. In the early days, Antoine’s rouges were inconsistent—at times great, at other times hot and funky, as he experimented with various ways to battle the island’s excessive heat. The Carco blanc, though, was perfection from the start: timeless Vermentinu imbued with salt, sun, and rocks year in and year out. Through it all, Carco kept steady and won Corsica its proverbial seat at the table.
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.
Great winemakers, great terroirs, there is never any hurry. And I no longer buy into this idea of “peak” maturity. Great winemakers, great terroirs, their wines offer different pleasures at different ages.
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