For thousands of years, viticulture and wine have been an integral part of Corsica's history. Already existing in the wild, the vine gave sweet berries, which were particularly well liked. However, the domestication of this plant did not really begin until antiquity, precisely six centuries before Christ, with the arrival of the Greeks on Corsican territory. They set up a trading post called Alalia (Aleria today) on the eastern coast and brought with them the cultivation of the vine. A few centuries later, the Romans introduced a clear improvement in the way vines were grown, thus intensively developing viticulture in the region.
Throughout the Middle Ages, religious orders worked to perpetuate the cultivation of vines and the production of wine. Until the second half of the 19th century, the vineyard underwent a considerable expansion, while Corsican wines met with great success in the Mediterranean basin. The trade and export of wine was greatly facilitated by the development of means of transport. Towards the end of the 19th century, like all of the European vineyards, the Corsican vineyard was ravaged by powdery mildew, then by phylloxera. The decline of the local vineyard was finalized by the First World War. Thanks to the owners repatriated from Algeria, the vineyard has been gradually rebuilt since the 1960s.
ENDEMIC GRAPE VARIETIES
To produce the great diversity of Corsican wines, the winegrowers of this region rely on a wide range of grape varieties. In order to produce a large quantity of wine, high-yielding varieties were previously favoured. However, from the 1970s onwards, Corsican winegrowers began to work hard on quality winegrowing based on ancestral know-how. In addition, they are reintroducing indigenous grape varieties to create wines with a fully-fledged identity.
The Corsican vineyard is planted with more than 30 grape varieties, some of which are specific to the region. Among the red grape varieties are:
- Carcaghjòlu Nèru
The list of white grape varieties includes:
- Carcaghjòlu Biancu
- Biancu Gentile
Other grape varieties are grown in various wine regions, notably in Italy, and are emblematic of Corsica. This is the case of the red grape variety Niellucciu and the white grape variety Vermentinu. Together with Sciaccarellu, these grape varieties are grown in all the island's AOCs. In addition, Muscat à petits grains is a variety grown in Corsica for the production of natural sweet wines.
AN ISLAND TERROIR
If the grape varieties used contribute to the uniqueness of Corsican wines, these nectars also owe their unique character to the geological diversity and specific climate of the region. Geologically, the region is divided into two entities with a different profile, created following the shaking of the Alpine system during the Mesozoic Era: Alpine Corsica and Ancient Corsica. A veritable mosaic of terroirs, Corsica is made up of different types of soil:
- Granitic and volcanic soils are present in two thirds of the territory in the southern and western regions. Rich in silica, lye, alumina and calcium, these soils, where Sciaccarellu vines grow, give great finesse and intense floral aromas to the wines.
- Alpine Corsica, in the east of the island, where the Castagniccia and Cap Corse are located, is covered with soils rich in calcium carbonate. This terroir is particularly suited to the cultivation of the grape variety Muscat.
- In the Corte area, forming a furrow crossing the island in a north-west/south-east direction, the soils are made up of sedimentary rocks with a depression.
- Stretching from Bastia to Solenzara is sedimentary plain, made up of recent sedimentary rocks. Rich in schists, these soils give structure and lightness to the wines.
Thanks to its location between the land and the mountains, the vineyard is also subject to a specific climate which gives character to the wines. The influence of these two elements is reflected in the mild temperatures, in all seasons, on the coastal zone, where the majority of the vines are grown. The island's climate is characterised by more than 2,800 hours of sunshine per year, which is beneficial for the ripening of the grapes. Corsica is also one of the rainiest areas in France with a particularly high level of rainfall, especially in the mountainous areas and in the Cap Corse region. The island also benefits from warm summers and mild winters, favourable to the development of the vine. Finally, the risks of fungal diseases are relatively reduced thanks to the cross influence of many winds: tramontane from the North-West, mistral from Provence and libeccio from Gibraltar.
RED WINE, WHITE WINE, ROSÉ WINE: WHAT ARE CORSICAN WINES?
Thanks to the diversity of soils and grape varieties cultivated in the region, Corsican wines come in a variety of colours and varieties, giving wine lovers a wide choice. Generally gourmet, rosé wines, whose flagship varieties are Niellucciu and Sciaccarellu, account for around 70% of Corsican wine production.
The cuvées of this colour are also much better known than the others. Appreciated for their good ageing potential, red wines represent about 17% of the production. Corsican wines also come in dry white and sweet white wines.
CORSICAN WINES: APPELLATIONS
The Corsican vineyard has nine AOCs ("Appellations d'Origine Contrôlée"), divided into different sub-categories: one "Régionale" appellation, two "Cru" appellations, five "Villages" appellations and one "Vin Doux Naturel" appellation. In addition, about half of the total production of Corsican wines bears the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) designation.
Finally, winegrowers who do not wish to comply with the constraints of a specification opt for the Vin Sans Indication Géographique (VSIG) qualification. Wines classified under this designation are however no less qualitative than a PGI or PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) wine.
More information on the official website