SommCon is an en masse gathering of sommeliers & other wine professionals.  The one held this past November was in San Diego, California & featured 3 days worth of panel discussions, presentations & educational seminars.  One of the most interesting presentations I attended was– “Carignan–it’s just not for blending any more“–by Geoff Labitzke, Master of Wine & Brian Lynch of Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants.

My fascination for the Carignan grape variety has really grown over the years.  As the title of the seminar suggests it was typically used as a blending component rather than a featured, stand alone bottling.

The first Carignan based red wine that caught my fancy was from Domaine de Fontsainte & their Corbières red in the late 80’s/early 90’s.  I found it to be so delicious, tasty, food friendly & gulpable.  Shortly thereafter, when tasting other Corbieres red wines from their neighbors, I was rather put off by the over use of Syrah to their blends & I was thankful to have experienced the Fontsainte rendition first.  Subsequently I also took a fancy to their “Réserve La Demoiselle” bottling (the Carignane planted in 1904).  These 2 wines opened a whole new thought for me on what Carignane could offer.

A short time later, my next Carignan experience was produced by the Pellegrini family (California) back in the early 1990’s.  I found it to be tasty, interesting & quite food friendly though very unique, rambunctious & virile.  It was also quite a great value for what one got in the bottle.  This wine showed me what was possible in California, especially from the Sonoma & Mendocino wine growing areas.  (I have since found 2 other interesting Carignane based red wines out of California worth checking out–Folk Machine “Parts & Labor” & the Neyers Carignan “Evangelho Vineyard”)

In both cases, I found Carignan not to be showy or as outgoing as those wines produced from Syrah, Grenache or Mourvedre grape varieties.  It had its own set of characteristics.  I especially liked old vine renditions as Carignan seemed to be quite a conduit of character & vinosity from the old vines to the wine in the bottle, at least in certain cases.  It really was those cases that greatly peaked my interest.  After Fontsainte, I discovered that importer Kermit Lynch added other Carignan driven wines to his fabulous portfolio, including old vine Carignan dominated bottlings from Sylvain Fadat at D’Aupilhac, Maxime Magnon, Leon Barral, Vinci & Les Milles Vignes.  Each offer something special & compelling.

With Carignan, there were also some to be found out of Spain’s Priorat region that are also interesting.

So, I was quite anxious to see what Geoff & Brian would offer at this tasting seminar.  They did NOT disappoint.  Geoff sought after & collected some interesting renditions from Mexico, Sonoma, San Diego, Chile, Spain AND Tunisia of all places!  Brian brought & shared 4 true Carignane superstars from his portfolio–Maxime Magnon “Campagnes”; Domaine D’Aupilhac “Le Carignan”; Vinci “Rafalot” &  Les Milles Vignes “Dennis Royal”–each wine featuring 80 to 100 year old Carignane vines, their fruit & very masterful grape growing & winemaking. It was quite an insightful gathering of wines & tasting & I was overjoyed.  Thank you guys for this fabulous opportunity! 

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We stayed in southern Sardegna for a couple of days, based in the city of Cagliari.  Eventhough it was quite a surprisingly large city, there were many things to visit & see.  Cheryle & my cousin Mike had planned to take a walking tour to see the sights. 

At dinner one night at a very hip restaurant the server recommended 2 wines to us  for our meal, one of them was the Miniera Nero from Enrico Esu.  He was the same vigneron recommended to us by Giovanni Montisci.  (Yes, another instance where a true vigneron recommending another vigneron to us).  PLUS, his wines were of the Carignano del Sulcis appellation!  (I have been intrigued by this appellation in southwestern Sardegna for some time, because they still have own rooted vines.  How many places in the winegrowing world still have own rooted vines?)

Giovanni Montisci had given me Enrico Esu’s cell number & I tried calling.  It however became apparent he spoke no English.  When we got back to the hotel, I asked the hotel manager to call on my behalf to see if I could get an appointment to see him the next day–again just hoping to see & walk his vineyard with him.  Enrico said yes!

The next morning I went.  (Cheryle & Mike stayed back to do an already confirmed & paid for walking tour & let me go anyway).

It was an hour & half drive away.  As I drove, the contour of the countryside was mainly flat & the roads wide & easily navigable.

Enrico told me to meet him at a very highly recognized hotel, just outside the town & things went without a hitch. 

Enrico Esu was a pleasure to meet & hang out with.  He is down to earth, charming & was very patient with me & our language challenges. He is also a true vigneron & I was truly honored & inspired to walk vineyards with him.

His estate vineyard was a 15 minute drive away.  Again, I would never have found this site on my own as there are no signs or markings.  The vineyard is just off a modest street of a perimeter housing area. 

The vineyard is but 12 hectares–very sand dominated, with a coal bedrock 2 meters below the surface.  His vines are own rooted (Franc de Pied)–40 to 60 years in age–95% Carignano, with small amounts of Monica, Cannonau, Carenisca & Bovale. 

His winery is small.  I was quite surprised at how small it really is.  It used to be their family’s house, where his father was raised.

 

His total wine production typically is only between 400 & 500 cases a year!  That’s it!  I was sad to hear for 2018, he lost 70% of his crop due to rain & subsequent mold & mildew issues.  I was astounded & sad at the HUGE amount of affected grapes still hanging on the vines as we walked about.  I wonder how he can survive such a devastating loss.

In 2018, he produced a scant 200 liters of a rosato.  It was still fermenting when I was there.

Nero (mostly 40 to 60 year old vine Carignano)–no stems, 15 months in stainless.  The 2016 had a real wildness in its core–intriguing & rustic–grapey, provocative, structured & quite masculine & savory.  I really liked it.  I found his Carignano reds were so very different from the Cannonau based wines I had been tasting previously on our Sardegna trip.  It seemed to have more acid & a more tannic grip.

Serucci (60 year old vine Carignano)–Serucci is the winery’s crown jewel.  no stems. Fermented in plastic tubs & the 2015 spent 15 months in his old 225 liter Santadi used barrels.  (2016 was only 12 months & 2017 was in 500 liter old, Capichera used barrels for 12 months).  Typically only about 50 to 65 case production.  We tasted the 2015 & it definitely had more mojo, structure, grip & I found a real artisan feel & soulfulness to it.  I loved this wine!  Yes, he is a true vigneron.

Visiting Esu reminded me of my early days when I first visited France’s Rhone Valley for the first time & visiting the likes of Verset, Clape & Gentaz, because of the small, true artisan, one man show operation & its grass roots approach both in the vineyard & the “winery”.  Enrico’s wines are not as noble, but they are artisanal, personal & therefore touching & they certainly moved me.  Thank you so much for the great, inspirational visit Enrico!  Definitely one of the best wine stops for me on this 2 week trip.  I will work hard to get some of these wines to Hawaii.

After the wine tour, Enrico & I went to eat at his childhood friend’s neighborhood restaurant right by the sea.  The food really hit the spot–octopus, sea anemone, fish, tuna, mussels, pasta with bottarga–fresh, well cooked & classically Sardinian.  If you are in the area, you should plan on a stop there. 

To be candid, the winery I was most anxious to visit during our 2 week trip was Giovanni Montisci of Mamoiada, Sardegna.  I had tasted 3 of his wines previously & was astounded at how “otherworldly” each was.  It was like when I first tasted the Luigi Clos Nicrosi from Corsica back in the 80’s.

Mamoiada is located “in the heart of Sardegna’s mountainous interior“, a roughly 2 1/2 hour drive through very winding, often narrow roads through the rugged countryside.  Because of the wines & the drive I had visions of visiting somewhere reminiscent of the old days, just like back in the 80’s visiting Clape, Verset & Gentaz in the Rhone Valley of France for the first time–old wood, very rustic, converted garage-like wineries with earthen floors handed down from the generations before each, & all stuck in time. 

Upon arrival to Mamoiada, I was instead very surprised at how settled & westernized it looked.  It still was small & very neighbor-ish, but much more modern than what we had experienced in Corsica.  Giovanni’s home (with his winery located below in his what would be for most, the 2 car garage & the small downstairs apartment) featured a modern fountain (seemingly from an upscale garden shop) with a small front yard of artificial turf AND a remote opened & closed gate.  This was WAY different from what I day dreamed about. 

His winery was meticulously clean & very well organized.  I was just amazed at how small it was & understood there can’t be too much wine available, especially for us out here in Hawaii.

Montisci ferments some wines in large plastic tubs which reminded me of Chris Whitcraft & his plastic bins back in the day.  Giovanni’s were just covered with plastic sheets. 

Giovanni owns & farms but 3.5 hectares of vines, most of it 60 year old vine Moscato & Cannonau up in the hills just above his town (2200 feet in elevation), all organically farmed. The chilly nights encourage slow, ripening times.  The soil is sandy, granitic clay & the vineyard somehow has a very special feel to it.  (I got similar vibes from Laurel Glen’s Sonoma Mountain estate vineyard back in the late 80’s/early 90’s on my first visit).  It is much more than just vines & soil & I could understand the wines much differently.  (This is really not just a romantic notion).  I tasted the grapes still on the vine & they were so different than any of our other stops on this trip.

The grapes are harvested by hand & sorted in the vineyard.  All of the fermentations are spontaneous (wild yeasts) & done in 1000 liter tanks.

Biancu “Modestu” (100% Moscato–60 year old vines–500 to 600 case production)–grapes macerate on the skins for 5 days, wild yeast fermented then aged in 225 liter OLD oak for roughly 6 months, vinified dry, 100% malolactic.  Every time I taste this bottling, now, 4 vintages worth, I scratch my head in wonderment, because it is so unique & interesting–lemon verbena, lemon, lime, star fruit nuances with a honey backdrop.  Full flavored with a unique lush, unctuality/thickness/viscosity–masculine, savory & stony, expansive.

Rosato “Barrosu”–(100% Cannonau–60 year old vines–500 to 600 case production)–grapes macerate on the skins for several hours, wild yeast fermented & then aged in 225 liter OLD barrels for 6 months, vinified dry & 100% malolactic.  This is a very heady, masculine, savory, stony, BIG rose with almost an earthy-oxidative-“orange” style & an old oak mouthfeel.

Cannonau di Sardegna “Barrosu”–(100% Cannonau–60 year old vines–500 to 600 case production)–I would say, this is a beast–masculine, rustic, surly, savory with much bravado & structure, but still very juicy, pliable (not hard) with lots of depth, layering, virility, vinosity & resounding character.  It certainly catches my attention every time I have tried it.  Fermentation lasts 20 to 30 days & is aged for 1 year in 1500 & 2000 liter Slavonian botti.

Cannonau di Sardegna “Barrosu” Riserva “Franzisca” (100% Cannonau–90 year old vines–200 to 250 case production).  I believe 2010 was the first vintage the word “Franzisca” (in homage to Giovanni’s wife) appeared on the label.  It was previously labeled as Riserva.  This is something totally “otherworldly”–profoundly lavish, wildly rustic, vinous, totally about character & savoriness with a pine needle nuance intermittently present.  I have never had a wine like this before that’s for sure.   Fermentation lasts 20 to 30 days & is aged for 2 years in 1500 & 2000 liter Slavonian botti.   We tried the 2018, 2016, 2015 & the 2007 (labeled as Cannonau di Sardegna “Barrosu” Riserva) which was the finest wine we had on this trip, by far! 

Afterwards, we had lunch together at his childhood friend’s restaurant, right in the center of town.  REALLY good Coriscan “country” styled foods.

Thank you Giovanni for a great visit.  I am a total believer!

Our next stop–Deperu Holler–was at least another 45 minute drive from Vigne Rada.  We made good time, but really got “lost” when we were in the general area, as again the GPS was NOT really too thorough on getting us to the winery door, compounded by the fact there were no signs to be seen anywhere.  Thankfully someone came to meet us & take us there.  I could not find this winery on my own if I were to go back.

Deperu Holler is a small, husband (Carlo Deperu) & wife (Tatiana Holler) wine project in “Carlo’s hometown of Perfugas, where they replanted the family vineyards AND added some new parcels (bringing up the estate vineyard to 6 hectares)The soils alternate between granite & limestone with clay, chalk & fossil rich stones, depending on where in the vineyard one digs”.  As we walked the vineyard, Carlo kept digging holes to show the varying soil mixtures in the different pockets of the rolling hill site.

I noticed the cooling wind (maestrale–continuously blowing in from the sea 10 miles away), which they said is very beneficial in supporting their organic regiment in the vineyard.  This was proudly another vigneron in every sense of the word.

The winery itself is small & very practically set up.  I surmised their production was quite small, given there were 2 hectares each of Vermentino & Cannonau, 1/2 hectare of Muristellu & the remaining 1/2 hectare to small quantities of other indigenous grape varieties–Moscato, Malvasia, Arvesiniadu & Nasco, just to name a few. 

Vermentino di Gallura “Fria” (100% Vermentino)–native yeast fermentation in stainless, 10 days lees contact, partial ML & then aged 7 months in stainless.  This was a tasty, frisky, pure white wine with lots of vitality & wonderful texture, despite the crisp refreshing acidity.  This wine typically comes from the iron rich parcel.

Isola dei Nuraghi Bianco “Prama Dorada” (typically 70% Vermentino, 20% Moscato, 5% Arvesiniadu & Nasco)–wild yeast fermentation in stainless & cement.  100% ML, aged in stainless for 9 months with regular lees stirring.  This wine typically comes from the top of the vineyard–clay/galestro soils & the middle section, which has some limestone to the clay.

Isola dei Nuraghi Rosso “Familia” (70% Cannonau & 30% Muristellu)–foot stomped, NO stems, wild yeast fermentation in stainless & cement & then aged for 12 months in stainless.  This Cannonau blend had much more mojo & savoriness than what we had tried previously from others, which I would say is at least partly because of 30% Muristellu (dark pigmented, ripe, round, & tannic).

Solid wines, which will only get more interesting I believe as the vines get older.  

On the phone, Tatiana had urged us to get there for lunch.  I assumed that she was having some kind of get together.  As it turned out, this adorable couple just wanted to have a typical, local lunch, in the vineyard, just to get to know us & us them, as a kind gesture of their warm, genuine hospitality.

The food was from their area & was so tasty, wonderful & hit the spot.  Thank you for sharing.

We brought out two white wines we had purchased during our travels–1 from Buzzo & 1 from Clos Canarelli–plus 2 red wines–one from Clos Canarelli & 1 from Pero Longo–Cuvee XX, just to share.  Carlo went especially crazy over the Pero Longo.  (He is such a wine passionate guy & wears his emotions on his sleeves). Their friend who came to help interpret, said Carlo was quite a respected taster in his area & island, so his appreciative antics over the Pero Longo really meant something.  He was so jazzed, he walked away & headed back to the winery.  He came back holding an unlabeled bottle for us to try.

He proudly said it was a Cabernet Sauvignon he grew, produced & wanted to share with us.  What a real surprise!  I really liked it.

Thank you both for such a wonderful, insightful visit & your gracious, true hospitality!

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Our wine & food adventure traveling up, down & traversing through Corsica sadly came to an end.  It was a great trip to say the least.

Our next adventure was explore the island of Sardegna just south.  We caught a ferry, leaving Bonifacio, Corisca & arriving to the port of Santa Teresa di Gallura in the north part of Sardegna.  After renting a car in Olbia, we drove to our hotel in Castelsardo, an hour & 40 minutes away.

It was immediately apparent Sardegna was very different–much flatter, warmer & we now drove on highways.

After a brief stay & a very good dinner in Castelsardo, we headed the next morning to see 2 wineries. 

The first was Vigne Rada.  Vigne Rada is located less than an hour outside the city of Alghero on the north end of the island. There really wasn’t a lot of road signs & GPS got us to the general area, but we eventually had to call for someone from Vigne Rada to meet us & take us to the winery.  As we followed, it became real apparent we would not have found the winery otherwise.  Even stops to stores in the area to ask for directions didn’t help.  We quickly learned this winery is just too small & even the immediate area locals were not familiar with it or its location.  The area was flat & each parcel seemed to be acres in size & so very different that what we saw in Corsica.  It reminded me of going out to Waimanalo & seeing all of the farms out there. 

Patriarch Luigi “Gino” Bardino started the winery with the support of his 2 sons & their first harvest was 2012.  They own vineyards in 2 distinctly different areas–“Monte Pedroso, where the winery is located & features sandy, clayey alluvial soils with lots of riverbed stones & quartz; & the sloping Cubalciada site & its clay, limestone & some chalk soils“.

Like Gino, the founder, the wines of Vigne Rada are honest, unpretentious & straightforward” AND are quite food friendly & really deliver quality for the dollar.

Vermentino de Sardegna “Stria” (100% Vermentino)–“fermented & aged for 3 to 4 months in stainless steel on the fine lees which are regularly stirred“.  2016–we really liked the stony undertones & its fresh, pure, liveliness & personality.  He also opened & shared a bottle of their favorite to date–2012–nutty, lanolin nuances with a seamless flow from beginning to end & still had a very vibrant core.  The edges were just seemingly rounder because of the additional bottle age.

Cannonau di Sardegna “Riviera” (100% Cannonau)–“destemmed & lightly crushed.  Fermented in stainless, then 70% aged in stainless for 10 months & 30% aged in 225 liter & 500 liter OLD oak for 3 to 4 months“.  2016–Grenache like fruit, graceful, elegant & suave.

Alghero Cagnulari “Arsenale” (100% Cagnulari)–“destemmed & lightly crushedFermented in stainless, then 70% aged in stainless for 12 months & 30% aged in 225 liter & 500 liter OLD oak for 4 to 6 months“.  2015–pungent, seemingly wild, savory & more masculine-more like Carignano.

Isola dei Nuraghi Passito “3 Nodi” (Vermentino)–botrytis infected grapes left to dry on the vine until mid October.  Fermentation in stainless for 40 to 50 days.  typically 210 g/l residual sugar.

Our visit to Corsica ended in Bonifacio, a city located in the southern tip of the island.

Bonifacio sits right on the sea & represented a very different look & feel to our Corsican experience. 

I was blown away on the drive into the city, as the surrounding cliffs are laden with limestone.  This was a very stark difference to all of the darker, granite based soils we witnessed throughout much of the drive traversing through the wild countryside & mountainous terrain prior.

The 2 main gathering areas of the city is down by the sea & its boat docks & the other up on the hill surrounding the citadel.

In the center, up on the hill, we walked around during the day, to check out all of the recommended restaurants & their menus, as we needed to plan dinners for our 2 nights there.  On our first night we ate at a cute, cozy, highly recommended eatery, but I must say, the over all experience was underwhelming.  As we walked back to our hotel, I would look in at the other restaurants of the area & then looked at their menu postings on their boards.  I can’t say, I was too excited.

The next morning, we headed out early to see Clos Canarelli, as theirs was by far the best wines of the area that we had tasted.  It was quite the visit. 

On the way home, we took a slight detour to Porto Vecchio, a seaport along the eastern coast.  There, we found a small, terrific, out of the way restaurant named A Cantinetta & had a terrific lunch.  It was memorable because it was good Corsican food–unpretentious, well prepared & definitely hit the spot.

Driving back to our hotel, I was quite full, since we seemingly ordered & try everything on the menu.

I remember thinking, in comparison, I didn’t relish eating at any of the restaurants we walked by up on the hill the night before.  The menus pretty much looked the same & geared more to the tourists.

We all agreed to instead eat in our hotel that night.  Hotel food?  On the last night?  We recalled that Yves Canarelli mentioned that our hotel served really good pasta.  He said the chef was really good, so we stayed in & went down to eat pasta that night. 

Well, Yves was right.  The was pasta was really good & well cooked.  It wasn’t Corsican by any means, but the food really hit the spot nonetheless.

The winelist was VERY small & was comprised of familiar, “standard” names we saw on many winelists during our visit.  I asked the manager what would he drink if he was eating dinner & he pointed to a wine—one that was the most expensive on the list….& by far.  (of course, I thought).  I was not familiar with the winery, but ordered it nonetheless.

It turned out to be a really solid, interesting, eye opening red wine, which was REALLY different from anything we had had during our visit to Corsica.  Amongst the ripe, dense fruit, there was uplifting minerality….I thought limestone!  The label said Buzzo Bunifazziu & it was from Bonifacio!

I asked the manager if he could look up the wine online to find out what grape variety was used to make this wine.  He couldn’t find too many details, but he did get an email address.  So, here we were sitting in a restaurant at 9:00pm at night & me emailing the winery to see what the grape variety was.  Not even 10 minutes went by & I got a reply…..Minestellu.  I got up & went to the front desk to ask the night manager to contact them & ask where the winery was located.  We had to catch a ferry to Sardegna the next day around 12:30pm & I was hoping there might be a chance to stop by & see them.

Thierry Buzzo replied & said he would swing by the hotel around 8:30am the next morning, take me to his vineyard & drop me back off at the hotel, all within the time restraints.  Are you kidding me, I thought?  Ok, I am game!, the wine was that good.

The next morning Thierry was right on time & off we went.  (Cheryle & Mike stayed back to do some last minute shopping & walking around the town).

The vineyard & winery was but 15 minutes away.  I realized while driving there, I would never have found it driving alone.  There are no street addresses or signs & their place is really down a pretty low keyed road & area.

I was greeted by Vincent Buzzo (Thierry’s father) & Angelica Santori (I believe the associate winemaker & a graduate of the wine school in Montpellier.  She also thankfully spoke English quite well).

 

Their winery was quite small & their estate vineyards was but 10 hectares in size.  Portions of their vineyards were hard argilo-calcaire bedrock with a thin layer of clay topsoil & other parts the topsoil was black (I surmise of volcanic origin).  Although this project was 3 generations old, they really started upping their game by planting 7 hectares in 2010 & some in 2017 to a handful of native, heirloom grapes vines–Vermentino, Barbarossa for white & Niellucciu, Sciaccarellu & Minestellu for red wines.

I was really taken by their wines.  They were not as standout-ish as those of Arena, Abbatucci or Canarelli, but they were solid, well crafted & really showcased the calcareous soils they were grown in.  I think this winery has a lot of potential & can’t wait to see what happens as their vines get older & they better understand what their vineyards want to say.  I would also add that the key to how they progress will largely be based upon the involvement of Angelica Santori & her development.  While the Buzzo’s may own the land, it was obvious Angelica was the main cog here in making things happen & their wines’ quality. 

We quickly tasted through several of their wines–

Vermentino1/2 fermented in stainless, 1/2 in 228liter barrel (1, 2 & 3 years old), 100% malolactic & 6 to 7 months on the lees.

Barbarossafermented in stainless, 5 months on the lees.

RoséSciaccarellu, Niellucciu & Vermentino–direct press, NO ML.

Niellucciu100% Niellucciu, NO stems, stainless

Minestellu100% Minestellu, NO stems, stainless

This is a winery to keep an eye on.

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Corsica proved to be a very amazing food & wine adventure.  Driving from north to south & traversing the very mountainous island & navigating the perversely winding, narrow roads was harrowing & tiring, BUT, seeing hours upon hours of remote, seemingly untouched countryside reminded us that Corsica is thankfully not yet completely westernized, especially in the northern parts..

As we headed through the southern half, everything seemed to slowly change & the towns became bigger & more developed, the terrain flatter & the weather warmer.

After our stop at Pero Longo in Sartène, we headed to the city of Bonifacio, which would be our home base for the last 2 days on the island. 

The first morning there we headed east towards Figari (actually just outside the village of Tarabucetta) to visit another highly revered vigneron–Yves Canarelli.  Yves is another champion of native, indigenous vines–Vermentinu, Bianco Gentile, Niellucciu, Sciaccarellu, Minustellu, Genovese, Carcaghjolu Neru (& Biancu), Paga Debiti, Barbarossa, just to name a few.  (He also has small amounts of Grenache, Cinsault & Syrah planted–which may have been there before his arrival in 1993).

Interestingly, Yves grows his vines in 3 separate areas–33 hectares in Figari (granite based with red alluvial soils); Sartène (REALLY old vines grown in granitic soils) & has 5 hectares in Bonifacio (limestone base).

Canarelli is also vehemently about organic & biodynamic farming & this style of farming is greatly aided by the constant, relentless coastal winds that comes in from the Gulf of Figari. 

Upon arrival, we were blown away at how “state of the art” his winery looked.  There were many kinds of oak vessels, concrete vessels & 2 kinds of amphorae.  Yves, although very much into wild yeast fermentation & using whole cluster, is nonetheless very deliberate & precise in his winemaking & is continually tinkering with what to ferment in & how to make his wines more interesting, while still showcasing Corsican character & integrity.

Wine wise, Clos Canarelli has three main, differentiating sub-labels–

Corse FigariBlanc (Vermentino)–partial malolactic & aged in large foudres/older neutral barrels; Rosé (Sciaccarellu, Niellucciu & Grenache–for finesse)–whole cluster fermentation, direct press, partial malolactic & 100% stainless steel; & a Rouge (typically 80% Niellucciu, 15% Syrah & 5% Sciaccarellu)–100% destemmed, fermented & vinified in large foudres for 14 to 18 monthsRouge “Alta Rocca” (Sciaccarellu, single parcel planted in 1997)–typically 4 week fermentation in stainless & then aged in foudres for 24 months.

Vine de France (wines not fully adhering to the government restrictions.  I call it Yves doing his thing to make the best wines he can)–Rouge “Costa Nera” (Carcaghjolu Neru)–100% destemmed, fermented & vinified in large foudres for 14 to 18 months; Rouge “Tarra d’Orasi” typically 500 bottle production–(1/2 hectare, single vineyard–field blend–Sciaccarellu, Minustellu & Cinsault–vines, 140 years in age in Sartène )–100% destemmed, fermented & vinified in large foudres for 14 to 18 months; Blanc “Tarra d’Orasi”–typically 500 bottle production–(1/2 hectare, single parcel–typically 70% Vermentinu, 30% field blend–Genovese, Carcaghjolu Biancu, Paga Debiti & Barbarossa–vines 140 years in age in Sartène )–fermented in stainless & aged 24 months on the lees.  100% malolactic; Blanc “BG” (Biancu Gentile)–fermented on lees in concrete eggs. Blanc “Tara di Sognu” (in Bonifacio–limestone soils)–2016 100% Vermentino–barrel fermented & aged for 6 months in new, 600 liter barrels, 100% ML, 6 months on the lees (no stirring); 2017–80% Vermentino, 20% other native grape varieties–Genovese, Riminese, Biancu Gentile, 100% malolactic, 6 to 8 months on the lees (no stirring & aged in 600 liter new barrels for 6 months. Rouge “Tarra di Sognu”  (in Bonifacio–limestone soils)–2016 (50% Carcaghjolu Neru, 40% Sciaccarellu & 10% Minustellu)–NO stems, aged for 16 months  foudres & large ovals.

Corse Figari “Amphora” (wines done is amphora–one specifically for white wine & a different one for reds)–Blanc (Vermentino, planted in 1997)–2/3’s must & 1/3 whole cluster, fermented & aged in amphora for 3 months & 3 months in old barrels with no sulfur used during the vinification & bottling.  100% malolactic; Rouge (typically 80% Niellucciu, 10% Sciaccarellu & 10% native vines)–100% destemmed, fermentation in amphora for 4 to 7 weeks (no sulfur used during the vinification & bottling), aged in stainless & old oak barrels for 7 to 9 months.

Vin de France Muscat MPG–Clos Canarelli also has .7 hectares of Muscat a Petit Grains (planted in 1997)–& produces a vendange tardive, non muted sweet wine, harvested at roughly 18% potential alcohol, fermented in barrel to 15% alcohol & aged for 2 years in older oak barrels.  typically 45 grams per liter residual sugar.

The Clos Canarelli wines deliver in the “sweet” spot–they have impact & appeal, they have integrity, they are intellectual & they have class–& are therefore the rage in mainland France & also is meteorically growing in popularity amongst the sommeliers of America.

Thank you Yves for an incredible visit.

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The visit with Jean-Charles Abbatucci in Ajaccio took 6 1/2 hours.  It was supposed to be only 20 minutes.  We were running late & I was especially anxious because I didn’t relish driving & navigating the narrow, harrowingly winding roads of Corsica at night.  After all, our next destination, the city of Bonifacio in the southern tip of Corsica, was still a considerable drive away.

When we told Jean-Charles we were headed down to Bonifacio, he said his trademark phrase–“NO problem!”  He then added that along the way, we should stop by to see his friend Pierre Richarme, a true vigneron in Sartène, located roughly halfway between Ajaccio & Bonifacio.  The look in his eyes was one of respect, so we thought how can we argue with a vigneron recommending another vigneron?  He, after all, only recommended ONE AND, he doesn’t do so lightly or casually.  It really is a statement of respect.  So, off we went.

I was quite thankful that the roads seem to widen as we headed south.  The hills also seemed more rounded with less height.   It also seemed warmer. 

Finding Pierre Richarme was another interesting mini adventure.  Following GPS, we drove to a winery in Sartène, but no one was there.  There really wasn’t an address anywhere to be found, so we weren’t sure if we were actually in the right place.  Up the hill, we could see a residence, but we didn’t want to barge into anyone’s private residence.  So, after a while, we headed back out.  We stopped to take a break.  Imagine our surprise when someone drove up.  It’s Pierre.  Thankfully Jean-Charles had called him to advise him of our possible visit.  We followed him to the tasting room/restaurant, which was just down the road, again with no signage.

Pierre seemed like a very warm, nice guy.  He watched us very intently & we communicated well, considering he spoke very broken English & we no French. 

His domaine is 24 hectares of vineyards (2HA-Vermentino; 8HA Sciaccarellu, 10HA Niellucciu & 4HA Grenache), all biodynamically farmed.

His wines, over all, were tasty, interesting & very pleasurable, in fact, some of the better wines we had during our trip.

He uses a lot of concrete during his winemaking, with some oak.

His 100% Vermentino (Serenite) is wild yeast fermented, 6 months on the lees–pure, fresh, lean, uplifting & quite lively.  I would buy it.

He produces another 100% Vermentino (Le Lion de Roccapina)–6 months in 50% new oak, 50% 600 liter demi-muids–modern, grander, clove, spice & FRAMED.

HarmonieRosé–100% Sciaccarellu, direct pressed rosé–masculine, hearty, savory, darker colored.

Le Lion de Roccapina Rosso–80% Niellucciu, 20% Sciaccarellu, NO stems, 10 months in oak, 40% new–masculine, structured & well framed.

Equilibre–interestingly Pierre chose to next serve us this lighter, more forward, fruity red wine–40% each Niellucciu & Sciaccarellu & 20% Grenache, all fermented in concrete.  Quite the change-up–lighter colored, more transparent & fruity though with a savory edge.

Espirit de la Terre–80% Sciaccarellu, 20% Niellucciu–10 months in oak, 40% new.  seemingly riper, more plump, lower acid. 

XX Cuvée–100% Sciaccarellu, 10 months in oak, 40% new.  Now, this was a wine to behold.  It totally rocked!  (In fact, when we tried this wine later with Carlo Deperu of Deperu Holler on Sardegna, Carlo was over the top thrilled at tasting this wine!).  It is masculine,  uber savory, vinous & quite soulful!

Thank you Pierre for a wonderful visit!

Let’s talk story about Corsica & its wines.  My wife, cousin & I recently visited the island of Corsica, landing in the north & traversing the countryside down to the town of Bonifacio in the south.

I had a wine, Clos Nicrosi from a producer, Luigi, way back when & have wanted to go visit because of how interesting, unique & “otherworldly” it smelled & tasted.  I was completely captivated & it had been at the top of my wine bucket list since.  30 plus years.

So, after 27 hours of planes & airports, we landed in the city of Bastia, in the north eastern part of the island.  Rather than touring the city, its cathedrals & old port, we set out early morning westward to the Patrimonio wine appellation.  It was truly remarkable how once you leave the city limits & get into the countryside how remote & seemingly uncivilized it is.  One can drive for hours upon hours & see only hills, mountains, wild shrub & rocks jutting out everywhere.

Our first stop was at Yves Leccia.  The Leccia family have been growing grapes & making wine in the Patrimonio for generations.  Yves split off on his own in 2004 & today produces some of the most elegant, refined, sophisticated wines out of the rugged Patrimonio AOC.  He is a firm believer in his “E Croce” parcels–where there is a thin clay chalk layer resting upon a bedrock of schist just 1 meter or 2 down below.  He works with indigenous Corsican grape vines such as Vermentino & Biancu Gentile for white wine, Muscat for dessert style whites & Niellucciu, Sciaccarellu & Minustellu for red wines (although he has recently added some Grenache to his repertoire, for finesse & more roundness).  His wine portfolio includes 2 main labels–YL I.G.P Île de Beauté–Blanc, Biancu Gentile, Rosé; a Rouge & a very special “O Ba” red bottling…..& a set labeled as AOC Patrimonio–Blanc, Rosé & Rouge.  In each case, his wines are in fact wonderfully elegant, refined, pure & surprisingly classy.

Our next stop was with the Arena family, also in the Patrimonio appellation.  Patriarch, Antoine Arena, is one of the most iconic, revered wine vignerons in all of Corsica.  His domaine vineyard holdings have now been split between he & his 2 sons (Antoine Marie & Jean Baptiste).  Moving forward there will therefore be THREE labels now–Antoine Arena; Antoine Marie Arena & Jean Baptiste Arena, each using grapes from their split of the estate & done via the family style (with a few adjustments here & there, which I would venture to say, will continue to grow as time goes on).  Their vineyard holdings are some of the most breathtaking & eye catching that we saw in Corsica.  Spectacular, to say the least.  It starts with the Morta Maio parcel–clay, limestone & schist–2 hectares planted to Niellucciu (planted in 2001)–which goes to the Antoine Arena label; & 1 hectare of Vermentino (planted in 2014)–which goes to the Jean Baptiste Arena label.  The Griotte di Sole parcel, one of the domaine’s oldest holdings dating back to the 18th Century, is south facing (great sun exposure).  The 2 hectares of Niellucciu are 60 plus year old vines & the 1 hectare of Vermentino was planted in 1991 (wild yeast fermented in concrete).  The Carco parcel–east facing, with limestone, chalk, clay soils, was planted in 1987–2 hectares to Niellucciu (wild yeast fermented in concrete & then partially aged in old barrels–350 liters, 600 & 800 liters & the rest concrete up to 2 years) & 1 hectare planted to Vermentino (wild yeast fermented in concrete, 7 months aging on fine lees & typically 100% malolactic).  Their most recent addition is their Haut de Carco planting, which is a very steep, hillside planting directly above Carco–roughly 1 hectare–of a much harder, thicker limestone, planted in 2003.  (They in fact had to use blasting powder & heavy equipment to clear the land & blast holes to plant their vines, as nothing really grew well there previously).  What a vineyard site to behold!  Antoine Marie Arena also has a 1/2 hectare parcel of Morta Maio named Memoria–90 year old vines planted in red schist soils, which he produces maybe 1000 bottles of in any given vintage (fermented in concrete & aged in 8 years old, 350 liter barrels).  They also have a 1 hectare parcel which lies between Griotte di Sole & Carco of clay limestone soils where they planted the rarely seen Biancu Gentile native grape variety in 1996.  In addition they have a small 3 hectare parcel of calcareous, schist soils where they planted Muscat a Petite Grains–for their Muscat du Cap Corse cuvee–a low yielding parcel which is then fortified with Corsican grappa to produce a surprisingly delicate, wonderfully perfumed, minerally, uplifting dessert style white wine.  The wines are some of the very best from the island & deserve all of the major hype & acclaim they perennially receive. Their plantings are on this hillside.

 

 

 

 

 

We also tried to stop & see Giacometti–in Patrimonio, but in an area named the Agriate Desert.  While the area is very remote & semi arid, it is not at all like the Sahara desert & its completely barren, wind swept series of sand dunes.  It really is a wild countryside, with very little evidence of civilization.  I was told it is 4 1/2 hours of rugged four wheeling to get to the vineyard.   We valiantly tried but turned around after a while because the road was just too jagged & gnarly for our SUV.  The wines are good, interesting, very savory & intriguingly rustic.  Next time, maybe.

We did try other wines from the area, but nothing was nearly as good as what we had from these 3.

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Next on our agenda was to hopefully see Jean-Charles Abbatucci in the seaside city of Ajaccio.  (If one were to look at Corsica as a clock, Ajaccio would be located at roughly 8:30).  It is the capital of Corsica AND also happens to be the largest in population.  In short, Ajaccio is, well, a BIG city, especially by Corsican standards.  Our hotel was just 2 blocks off the port in a very congested part of the city, maybe 2 blocks from the old part of town.

Then why go to Ajaccio?

It had quite a concentration of small neighborhood eateries nearby to the hotel & therefore an opportunity to try some authentic Corsican food, especially in the old part of town, eventhough the parking was very challenging.  Plus, my cousin really wanted to see where Napoleon was born & raised (his one tourist-y stop on this trip).

Domaine Comte Abbatucci is a drive outside of Ajaccio city.  It wasn’t that easy to find, given the vineyard & winery really doesn’t have an address listed.

Our early attempts to schedule a visit with Domaine Comte Abbatucci were declined.  I was told Jean-Charles rarely sees visitors & especially at this time, since it was the end of harvest & heavy winemaking operations going on.  Yes, he is very hands on.  On Saturday, however, we received an email from them noting that he would be willing to see us on the coming Monday, but only for 30 minutes.  We were thrilled, as this was not only one of the very top vignerons of the island, but also a big proponent of rarely seen heirloom/heritage indigenous grape vines, which his father started searching out & collecting during his frequent travels into the mountains–fallow, dilapidated vineyards & many small, “peasant” farmers.  He is also a vehement champion of uber-biodynamic farming & a true master at grafting (to the point of almost appearing to be a bonsai master) indigenous vines to the old vine root system (which is used to the biodynamic regiment & less compacted, horse trodden soils).

The original 30 minute time limit actually ended up being more like 6 1/2 hours, as he passionately showed us vine after vine after vine of his masterful grafting techniques, which seemingly differed with each plant.  His goal was to be as minimally intrusive as he could be, so the vine would concentrate on producing supreme quality fruit, rather than on healing from the cuts & stress created by grafting.  Imagine at least 1 hour of looking & explanation……vine by vine!

He also proudly & patiently explained what he meant when he referred to his craft & several other of his peers as a vigneron.  In short, it was a definition of a code, an ethic, a passion, an honor, kind of similar in thought to the difference between a samurai & a swordsman.  He named only a few on his island who he considered true vignerons.  (Those that I was not familiar with, we then tried to add them to our list of visits or we bought the wines at stores or restaurants during our travels to sample).

So, I asked him, if you are not a vigneron, what are you?

In his broken English he referred to many as bricoleur.    I then asked, what is a bricoleur?  He smirkingly said, “He drives a BIG car.  He has nice shoes.” 

I later mentioned this to a wine friend from France, & he later emailed me this–“A Bricoleur does “Bricolage” which is defined as: Something made or put together using whatever materials happen to be available.  It was very often used by artisans when I was growing up in France when talking badly about some of their competitors not having great skills or performing shoddy / sloppy work”.

Got it.  Jean-Charles Abbatucci is definitely a vigneron.

Wine wise, Domaine Comte Abbatucci has three main, differentiating sub-labels–

Cuvée Faustine–(Blanc–produced from 40 year old vine Vermentino; Rosé–typically produced from 90% Sciaccarrellu, 10% Barbarossa; and Rouge–typically produced from 70% Sciaccarellu, 30% Niellucciu).  I would say, these are his core wines & the ones most restaurants & retail stores should concentrate on, especially when considering price points.

Vin de France–(wines grown &/or produced not withholding to the AOC laws)–Extra Brut “Empire”–100% Barbarossa, planted in 1960 & 1962–done method traditionelle…….Rosé “Gris Imperial–90% Sciaccarrellu, 10% Barbarossa……Rosé “Valle di Nero”–100% Carcajolu Neru–typically 250 cases production…..Rouge “Frais Imperial”–100% Sciaccarellu…….Rouge “Monte Bianco”–100% Sciaccarellu–typically 400 case production……..Rouge “Valle di Nero”100% Carcajolu Nero, typically 200 case production.  There is also a dessert style Aleatico “Dolce Rosso”–produced from a smattering of 20 year old vines, .21 hectares, fermented for 2 months in 300 liter barrels & then aged for 9 months in demi-muids.  (roughly 80 grams per liter residual sugar).

Cuvée Collection–are grown & produced from their oldest vines & is his homage to his long, long line of distinguished ancestors, using nearly forgotten, indigenous grape varieties such as Carcajolu Biancu, Paga Debbiti, Riminese, Rossola Brandica, Biancone & Vermentino for white wines; AND Carcajolu Neru (young vines, as it was only recently discovered & planted), Sciaccarellu, Niellucciu, Montaneccia, Morescono, Morescola.  These wines are quite pricey as Corsican wines go, but are his “family’s crown jewels”–produced in the vineyard & winemaking at their highest level. 

We ended the afternoon at his childhood friend’s seaside restaurant, enjoying his Extra Brut “Empire” & 2 different of his Cuvée Collection bottlings with Jean-Charles.  The sea breeze & aromas were wonderful, the seafood super fresh, the wine mesmerizing & the conversation intoxicating.  It was definitely a life long memory moment.  Oh yeah, we also got to try his brother’s (Jacques) lean, tasty Vaches Tigre beef–rare indigenous Corsican cows which roam freely on the 80 hectares of the estate which has no vine plantings.

Thank you Jean-Charles for a great & very insightful visit.

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