For decades, Jean-Charles Abbatucci could see from a window of the family home a steep, barren slope. In this remote corner of deep-country Corsica, where the climate may be hot and dry, the rolling hills are nonetheless covered with abundant green shrub and native grasses—so much so that this slope stood out like a sore thumb, a blemish. Not a blade of grass, not a single plant would grow there. Too much granite and too poorasoil? Too much erosion? No one really knew. Over time, the family gave the white, rocky slope the moniker Monte Bianco, which in Corsican means “white hill,” and viewed it as a bit of a challenge. Jean-Charles’s father tried in vain to plant various vines on various rootstocks on the slope. Nothing took, not even for a single season. Years later, when Jean-Charles took over, he was eager to prove his capability and promptly planted the hill once again, only to watch his vines shrivel and die, just as his father’s had. The Monte Bianco was deemed untamable, and the project was shelved. Fast-forward fifteen years, during which time Abbatucci has painstakingly implemented and developed biodynamic agriculture to a whole new level on his estate. The methods are applied not only to vines but to all the flora and fauna, every inch and every aspect of the domaine being imbued in the process. Farmers and vignerons near and far regularly make pilgrimage to Abbatucci to witness all this for themselves. So to come back to our impossible slope here, Abbatucci decided to give it one last try, this time with full biodynamic accoutrement. Amazingly, it took. It didn’t simply take, it thrived. Within a few years, the “white hill” was awash in vigorous vines, green grass and shrubs between the rows. The Monte Bianco had finally found harmony with its surroundings. Jean-Charles insists that this success is the indisputable evidence of the potential and power of biodynamics. I would go one step further and say that it also provides indisputable evidence of the otherworldly taste biodynamic wines can bring. Traditional tasting notes cannot do justice to this wine. There’s something more here than simple tastes or sensations. Never in my life have I tasted a wine so alive, so light to the touch yet able to express so much. The Monte Bianco talks without speaking, and screams without raising its voice, as the old song notes. Sciaccarellu has never had so much to say, so take a listen.
On his large estate south of Ajaccio, Jean-Charles Abbatucci keeps a pristine poly-culture ecosystem in place, complete with herds of sheep foraging through his vines, groves of olive trees on ancient terraces, and large swaths of untouched forests. His vines come from cuttings of indigenous grapes, sourced decades ago high up in the mountainous interior of the island, saving several native varieties from extinction. To keep his vines happy, he’s known to drive his tractor out to his vineyards and play traditional Corsican polyphonic songs over loudspeakers for their benefit. After the harvest he’ll treat his cellar to the same music as his grapes ferment and come of age. All part of the terroir, he says.
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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