Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Corsican wine tasting: smell that pricey real estate

Sorry it's not a great map; it was on the back of the menu
Corsica is a forsaken island, but only in the wine world. Discovered by European tourists decades ago, the rugged island just north of Sicily has high real-estate prices and a tradition of character-filled table wines.

Unfortunately those two characteristics don't coexist well. Corsican wine isn't cheap by world standards and wineries there have little incentive to try to work the US market, as they can sell most of their output either at home or in Paris to locals seeking a taste memory of their vacation.

We probably wouldn't have Corsican wines here at all if Berkeley-based importer Kermit Lynch didn't spend a third of every year at his home in southern France. He took some vacations in Corsica, fell in love with the island, and started drinking the wines.

I recently attended a Corsican wine dinner at Café Rouge in Berkeley, where 8 wines from Lynch's Corsican portfolio were poured.

Barbara Haim, Café Rouge wine director, said, "A lot of (Corsican) wines taste to me like if you took the southern Rhone and Italy and put them together." There's a lot of truth to that, as you can see by my tasting notes. The main white grape is Vermentino; the main red grape is Niellucciu, which is the same genetically as Sangiovese. But the blending grapes are mostly French.

I really liked the two white wines we tasted, which were extremely minerally and salty; they were like the liquid you taste from the shell after you've eaten a really good oyster. The rosés were excellent as well. As a group, the wines with the least Corsican character were the reds, and my favorite of those could have passed blind for a good Chianti Classico.

The prices listed below are all from Café Rouge's wine list; retail prices are lower, if you can find them; start here. Lynch hates the 100-point scale so I'll do him the dubious favor of not using it.

Maestracci Calvi "E Prove" Vermentinu 2010 ($36 wine list)
This intense wine smells salty like the ocean, with some dried flower notes. Drinking it is like drinking a condiment, and I mean that as a compliment. It's so strongly mineral-driven, completely dry with a salty finish, that it brings to life the moist and tender qualities of whatever you drink it with. My favorite wine of the night, and one of the most interesting whites I've encountered recently. "E Prove" means "The Trials." Try this with white-flesh fish.

Gioielli Coteaux de Cap Corse Vermentinu
2010 ($44 wine list)
Corsica has its own aroma: a dense blanket of native aromatic shrubs that locals call the "marqui," much like the "garrigue" of continental southern France. This wine brings the marqui into the aroma -- imagine oily scrub pines -- along with some citrus peel. It's mineral-driven and balanced on the palate with some bright citrus peel fruit and slight salinity on the finish. Another great seafood wine; is this a surprise from an island?
Kermit Lynch wine buyer Steve Ledbetter said of this producer, "The gentleman who owns Gioielli is elderly and he doesn't have any heirs. We don't know what's going to happen to the domaine. The winemaking is very traditional." I've only had it once and I miss it already.

Marquiliani Vin de Corse Sciacarellu/Syrah rosé 2011 ($44 wine list)
Several people took pains to point out to me that this is made by a woman, which must still be unusual in Corsica. Could I taste the femininity? Without food it's austere, a little sweaty on the nose with a salty, lean, orange peel flavor, and so light in color that it's almost clear. But with food, this wine succeeds because it doesn't overpower, instead refreshing with each sip yet still intriguing. If it's feminine, it's like the mystery of sexy eyes within a hijab.

Abbatucci Cuvée Faustine Ajaccio Sciacarellu/Barbarossa rosé 2010
($53 wine list)
This was my favorite wine from a multinational rosé selection last August at Café Rouge's annual all-pink dinner (Aug. 8 this year; unfortunately the restaurant is not yet accepting reservations, because it's a blast). But it's the same vintage, and in six months it has gone a little soft; there's a lesson in this. It's still a nice wine, with a generous aroma of rose petal and peach blossom, and the characteristic saline notes on the palate. But I think I'd rather drink the '11 already.

Maestracci Reginu Calvi Niellucciu/Grenache/Sciacarellu 2010
($30 wine list)
A solid, fruity, drinkable cheap red. Nothing wrong with that. But no reason to buy Corsican for it.

Yves Leccia Île de Beauté Grenache/Niellucciu 2010
($44 wine list)
This tastes like a southern Rhone wine, and no wonder when you consider the Grenache. It's peppery, with lively black currant fruit and some floral notes on the nose. This was made specifically for Lynch, breaking the rules of the Patrimonio appellation, which require a majority of Niellucciu. He just really likes Grenache.

Yves Leccia Patrimonio Niellucciu 2009 ($55 wine list)
With a meat-heavy menu, this was most diners' favorite red wine of the night, and I count myself in that group. It's like a traditional Chianti Classico, with dark cherry fruit, a little standoffishness in the tannins, some earthiness on the nose and some richness on the finish. The wine includes 10% Grenache, but you don't really taste it. This was the only red glass I finished easily and said, "more please."

Gioielli Île de Beauté Niellucciu/Aleatico/Merlot 2010 ($55 wine list)
A field blend from an elderly traditional producer with no heirs, this was the most Corsican of the red wines: floral, earthy, spicy, filled with the "maqui" of Corsica. Or, perhaps volatile acidity. There's a challenge in describing a wine like this as opposed to the wine above. This wine was fascinating, no question. But it demanded so much attention and gave intrigue but not so much actual pleasure. I could write about this wine more easily than I could drink half a bottle.

When I talked about the "maqui," a couple of people said, "You should go there and experience it." Hmm. The best flight option according to hipmunk is $2850 and takes 16 hours. Makes the Gioielli wines seem a bargain.

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1 comment:

Jack Everitt said...

If we had found a reasonably priced flight, we'd be in Corsica right now.

I've found that the best Corsican wines (not what you were drinking, in general), need some/good deal of aging.

No Antoine Arena?