Notes from our trip to France in 2011
Travel writers have described Corsica as the Maldives with French restaurants. Wine writers have been talking up the great improvement in Corsican wines over the last decade. This all sounded like a great place to go to find some interesting, unsusual and great value wines.
Itinerary, Accommodation and Notes
There are vineyards over many parts of Corsica but we decided 2 focus on two areas, the south around Porto-Vecchio and Sartène and the north around Patrimonio.
Hotel Le Pinarello
In the south we stayed at the Hotel Le Pinarello, on the coast from Sainte-Lucie-de-Porto-Vecchio. Tel 04 95 71 44 39 www.lepinarello.com It is pretty expensive but if you like the sound of lapping waves and walking out of the hotel onto the beach then this is the place for you. The town of Pinarello also has a good range of restaurants.
Hotel Castel Brando
In the north we stayed at the hotel Castel Brando, in Erbalunga, north of Bastia Tel 04 95 30 10 30 www.castelbrando.com Erbalunga is a small fishing village that has lots of restaurants including a Michelin one star Le Pirate on the edge of the harbour.
The main grapes on Corsica are a white variety called Vermentino (some growers seem to use Malvasia and Vermentino interchangeably – we couldn’t get to the bottom of it) and a red called Niellucciu which is from the same stock as Sangiovese in Tuscany. There is verry little use of oak in either the whites or the reds.
The big challenge in the wine areas is the incredibly windy roads which make apparently short distances very time consuming. (If you have any tendency towards motion sickness you need to sort it out for these roads.) If you want to visit a lot of wineries we suggest that you stay overnight in each of the main towns. We had located ourselves in two spots (south and north) and consequently we did a lot of tasting over meals rather visiting the wineries themselves.
The other thing that is really noticeable is how many people smoke. Most restaurants are more or less outdoors so smokers are all around you puffing away whilst you are eating. There are lots of ashtrays for sale in the souvenir shops and almost every bedroom has an ashtray.
Lecci, near Porto-Vecchio
Domaine de Torraccia
Dm de Torraccia, Lecci, 20137 Porto-Vecchio, Tel: 04 95 71 43 50 www.domaine-de-torraccia.com
Tasting room open Tues to Sat 09h00 to 12h00 and 15h00 to 18h00.
We started with their 10 rose, the traditional version (€7.50) and their premium Oriu range (€9.40) the latter made traditional Corsican grapes Sciaccarellu (80%) and Niellucciu (20%). The 10 blanc (€10.50) was made from Malvasia. The typical flavour is crisp and citrusy and this was that. We then tried three reds made from differing proportions of Niellucciu and Grenache. The 10 Niellucciu (€7.50) was 100% from this grape and was light and fruity. The 08 Torraccia (€7.50) was a bit more complex with the Grenache. The 05 Oriu (€15) was well aged but if this is what the famed 05 vintage did in Corsica, we are underwhelmed. We bought Oriu rose and blanc and thought about the Niellucciu.
Patrimonio, near Bastia
Domaine Orenga de Gaffory
Dm Orenga de Gaffory, Morta Majo, 20253 Patrimonio Tel: 04 95 37 45 00 Web: www.domaine-orengadegaffory.com
The Tasting Room is open April - September 09h00 to19h30 (at weekends from 10.00)
They make 4 styles of wines with, more or less, a white, rose and red in each range. We tasted the whites and the reds. All their blancs are made from Vermentino and were from the 2010 vintage. The Clos San Quilico (their entry level range) was minerally (€7.15) whilst the traditional Orenga de Gaffory (€8.50) was more fruity. We liked the latter and had it with several meals. The Cuvee Felice is a vieilles vignes (€10.90) whilst the Cuvee des Gouverneurs (€13.30) also spent 4 to 5 months in oak. Their reds are 100% Niellucciu with the exception of the Clos San Quilico which had 20% Grenache. The 08 (€7.15) tasted quite strongly of the Grenache, was thin and had sour tannins. The 09 Orenga de Gaffory (€8.55) had red fruits and harsh tannins whilst the Cuvee Felice 07 (€10.90) tasted of tart cherries with lovely soft fruit tannins. The Cuvee des Gouverneurs (€13.30) 08 had great fruit and soft oak tannins after spending 8 to 10 months in oak of mixed ages where it went through malo-lactic fermentation; another 4 or 5 years in the bottle will be interesting. We bought the blanc and rouge Cuvee des Gouverneurs.
We called in at Domaine Arena, Morta Maio, 20253 Patrimonio, Tel: 04 95 37 08 27 www.antoine-arena.fr but they were closed. Apparently there is no tasting room here; the wines are poured right in the wine cellar. One is advised to call ahead for an appointment. We had a 10 Antoine Arena Carco blanc for dinner. It was minerally but more complex than any other Vermentino of this style that we had tasted – very good.
Clos de Bernardi
Further up the hill is Clos de Bernardi, Hameau Santa Maria, 20253 Patrimonio, Tel: 04 95 37 01 09 Tasting room open Monday–Saturday 09.00-12.00 and 15.00-18.00.
This wine estate is certified biologique. We tasted the rouge, rose and Muscat; the blanc was sold out. The rose was better than several we had tasted and the red was pretty good; great fruits but no oak. The unvintaged Muscat du Cap Course, vin doux naturel was also pretty good – sweet but clean. At under €10 each, we bought the red and the muscat.
Muscat, a grape with small berries, has the natural ability to produce a lot of sugar and matures very well here thanks to the warm Corsican climate which, together with low yields, will eventually produce a very concentrated grape. Historically the grapes were dried on straw or lauzes (large flat stones). Nowadays in order to get the big amount of residual sugars, not only do they harvest late (mid October) but the winemaker carries out mutage operations when the must reaches around 9% alcohol (that is, when it is still vinifying). Mutage is the addition of pure alcohol to achieve a level of about 15%. This halts fermentation but does not affect the taste or aroma and the finished wine still has lots of potential sugars (around 50 grams per litre) that have not being transformed into alcohol.
We then went off to find wineries in Poggio d’Oletta. The road from Patrimonio to Poggio d’Oletta is quite hair-raising as, for quite some way, it is very narrow and the drop down the mountain is really steep with no barriers. The road down to Dm Leccia is before you come to Poggio d’Oletta but we went onto the village where we tasted at Clos Clementi.
Clos Clementi tasting room
Poggio d’Oletta's narrow roads
Clos Clementi, Poggio d’Oletta Tel 04 95 35 32 19 www.clos-clementi.com
The roads in this village are so narrow that you have to fold in the side mirrors on a small car. The directions to the winery are clear but it is not clear at all where they are. It looks just like any other village house although it was purpose built as a winery 300 years ago. We tried their 2010 blanc and the 2009 rouge. The white was typical but the rouge (€9) had some great fruit and soft tannins. We bought the rouge
We then went down the narrow winding road to the valley floor to look for Domaine Nicolas Mariotti Bindi which was located at Domaine Annette Leccia.
Domaine Annette Leccia
Domaine Annette Leccia, Morta Piana, 20232 Poggio d’Oletta Tel 04 95 37 11 35 www.domaine-leccia.com
The tasting room is open Mon – Sat 09h00 to 19h00 and Sun 10h00 to 18h00.
We tasted the 10 Blanc (Vermentino) (€15) which we thought expensive for what it was, the 10 Rose (€10) the same. We then tasted the 08 (€12) and 07 (€13) rouge (Niellucciu); the former light and fruity, the latter more complex raspberry favours but some strange tannins. We bought the 08. The Muscat was not as sweet as some and had a minty flavour. We were not offered any of the wines from Domaine Nicolas Mariotti Bindi.
Right next door we saw the signs of Yves Leccia, Domaine d’E Croce, Morta Piana, 20232 Poggio d’Oletta, Tel 04 95 30 72 33 /06 11 96 02 51 www.yves-leccia.com
The tasting room is open June - August, Monday – Saturday, 9h00 to 13h00 and 15h00 to 19h00.
However, it was somewhat confusing as they seemed to indicate that one must rather call at the Leccia next door so we did not go in. We had a bottle of their 2005 rouge for dinner. Even after being decanted an hour before we had it, it took an hour to open up; for the fruit to become evident and the tannins to soften. Their rouge is 90 % Nielluciu and 10 % Grenache, spends a minimum of 12 months in stainless steel tanks before being lightly filtered before bottling. It had a nice complexity despite no oak maturation.
Wines tasted but wineries not visited
Domaine de Pratavone, Ajaccio AOC, 20123 Cognocoli-Monticchi, France, Tel 04 95 24 34 11 www.domainedepratavone.com Rose 2010 Light easy drinking – probably our favourite rose of the trip.
Domaine Fiumicicoli, Route de Levie, 20100 Sartène, 04 95 76 14 08 www.domaine-fiumicicoli.fr Tasting room open Monday – Saturday 09.00-12.00 and 15.00-18.00. Tasted the Cuvee Vasillia Rose 2009. At €21 the most expensive rose in the shop and has a gold medal. A wine from their premium range made from 100% Sciacarellu. It tasted a bit sour and a bit complex – perhaps the age of the wine was against it.
Fior di Lecci Route de Bastia, 20137 Porto Vecchio, Tél : 04 95 71 43 52 Rose 2010. A local winery but that didn’t improve its taste.
Clos Canarelli, Tarabucetta, 20114 Figari, Tel: 04 95 71 07 55 www.figari.fr/clos Rose 2010 light and pleasant
Domaine Saparale, Route D50, 20100 Sartène, Tel: 04 95 77 15 52 www.saparale.com Having had too much rose we decided to change track and tried their premium Cuvee Casteddu 2010, a 100% Vermentino that had spent 6 months in oak with bâtonnages resulting in a full oaky white. Relative to what we had tasted previously this was so good that we had it on several occasions.
De la Punta, 20270 Aleria. The 2010 blanc was the accompaniment to oysters from the étang de Diane. It was typical of the wines made from Vermentino; light, slightly sour and not much of anything.
Domaine Gentile, Olzo, 20217 Saint Florent Tel 04 95 37 01 54 www.domaine-gentile.com The AOC Patrimonio Blanc was both dry and fruity, made exclusively from the Malvasia (Vermentino ?) grape.
U Santa Marina
U Santa Marina *, Marina Di Santa Giulia F - 20137 Porto-Vecchio Tel 0495704500
We went for lunch at this newly awarded Michelin one star restaurant. We had our first rose of the trip; a 2010 rose from Domaine de Pratavone, Ajaccio that was recommended by a member of the restaurant staff – quite pleasant. Unfortunately we couldn’t say the same about the food or the service. It was as though a Jekyll and Hyde was in operation. When we booked we were told the restaurant was closed and we would have to sit out on the very pleasant terrace overlooking the beach – not a problem from our point of view. But it would appear that not only was the restaurant closed but the chef and waiting staff had also taken the day off – the calamari was like rubber, the fish of the day was appalling and the salad was brown and wilting. For a one star Michelin restaurant it is incomprehensible. When we left no-one asked us about the food – not surprising! The guy who recommended the wine asked us what we thought. We told him that it was the best part of the meal, and we don’t really like rose! We have no idea what it is like in the evening but we certainly wouldn't take a drive to find out.
La Fleur de Sel
La Fleur de Sel, Pinarello F - 20144 Sainte-Lucie-de-Porto-Vecchio, Tel 0495710649
A very charming seaside restaurant with a haut cuisine approach. The starters of the €36 menu were foie gras pate and salmon cured in lemon and vodka; both very nice and, if the rest of the meal was anything to go by, bought in. We had one of the interminable roses but gave up after the first mouthful and ordered a premier cru Chablis, Vaillon, 2000 by Daniel-Etienne Defaix. This had been well cellared and was fine, crisp and lemony – very nice.
Tamaricciu restaurant is right on the beach at the southern end of Polombaggia beach. It specialises in fish but makes a great thin crust pizza which was all we wanted for lunch.
Le Rouf view
Le Rouf, Pinarello F - 20144 Sainte-Lucie-de-Porto-Vecchio, Tel 0495715048
We were a bit dubious about going here as all the other restaurants that had been recommended had flopped, other than the pizza we had had at lunchtime at Tamaricciu. We were after a simple grilled fish. We selected a Denti (don’t know the English equivalent) and a Pageot (sea bream ?) and had half each preceded by some local garlic prawns that were small, sweet and excellent. The fish was everything that we hoped for but the price had us gasping a bit at the end of the evening. Le Rouf was so good that we went back the next night for crayfish or langouste as they are called on the menu here. That so seriously dented the holiday account we were on bread and water rations from thereon out; but worth it!
Aux Coquillages de Diana
Aux Coquillages de Diana, on the étang de Diane, near Aleria Tel 04 95 57 04 55
On the way up from Porto Vecchio to Bastia is this floating restaurant on the estuary where they harvest oysters and muscles. On the hills on the other side of the bay are the local vineyards.
L’Esquinade, Le Port, 20222 Erbalunga Tel 04 95 33 22 73
A great sitting out area under a large tamarind tree and overlooking the small fishing port. We had an excellent grilled St Pierre (John Dory). This and Le Rouf established the price for a whole fish as being about €60.
La Marinuccia view
La Marinuccia, Place de l’ancienne poste, 20217, Saint Florent, Tel 04 95 37 04 36
We went for the sardines which for some unknown reason seemed scarce in Corsica; a cynic might say they are too cheap for a good margin. La Marinuccia have come up with a dish (Sardines Farcies) covering them in goats cheese and then grilling them to provide a healthy margin at €24 for 3 fillets. But a great location in a cute town makes it all worth it.
Ufragnu, 20222 Erbalunga
A deck over the sea gives a great view over the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Isle of Elba. Seafood is the order of the day and we had a bar (sea bass) which was quite large as was reflected in the price. We went back the next day to have moules et frites for lunch.
Le Pirate *, 20222 Erbalunga – le Port Tel 04 95 33 24 20
Visitor write-ups make one a bit dubious about Le Pirate and as we were on 'bread and water' rations we decided to give it a miss. But the restaurant up the hill that we had booked at had such an appalling selection of wine we thought we should try Le Pirate to see what an oldish local red tastes like. Right on the small port we had the menu decouverte (€68) which was 6 courses decided upon on the day by the chef. The food and service was of the expected standard but nothing was exceptional. As the sun was setting the quantity of midges in the air was a bit disconcerting as we were sitting out on the edge of the dock; but the swarms of swallows were enjoying themselves high above us. A most pleasant evening all in all.