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- CORSICAN FOOD – A Tale of Chestnuts, Cheese and Animals Grazing the Maquis
Is it any better in Heaven, my friend Ford/ Than you found it in Provence?
- William Carlos Williams, The Wedge: ‘To Ford Madox Ford in Heaven’
DOMAINE DE LA TOUR DU BON, Bandol – Organic
The Tour du Bon estate, located in the extreme north-west of the Bandol appellation, faces the sea.
This garrigue-scented landscape is washed with a very special, fantastic, dazzling light, so often captured by the world’s
great painters. Here the dry wind from the north flirts gently with the southern breeze. Aleppo pines spread luxuriantly,
supplanting the dominant tree, the oak, which has had a rough time as a result of repeated assaults by the scourge of the
region, forest fires.
Fortunately, in this natural arena, between the mountains and the sea, the arid site is tempered by the gentle marine
climate. The altitude combines with the effect of the mistral to ensure that the land is cleansed, from a plant-care point
of view. The slopes of Castellet and Brulat rest on a relatively homogeneous geological substratum made up of marls
Truly the “blood of the earth”, the Bandol Rouge requires the whole of the fruit in its production. It follows the course
of time and the interaction between nature, the vine, and man.
Yields are about 27hl/ha, harvest is by hand. 90% of the grapes are destemmed. Maceration lasts for fifteen days and
fermentation takes place with indigenous yeasts with remontage and pigeage. The wine is neither fined nor filtered and
spends eighteen months in foudres.
The blend of this wine is 55% Mourvèdre, 25% Grenache, 15% Cinsault, 5% Carignan). It has great aromatic
complexity associated with the three or four grape varieties it contains. A high proportion of Grenache lends cherry
notes as a counterpoint to the spicy, pepper accents of Mourvèdre, with Cinsault uniting the whole. On the palate, the
tannic framework can be powerful in youth, mellowing to silky meatiness with age.
This wine may be enjoyed now with peppered rib of beef, a prune tagine or, after a few years, with a leg of lamb with
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The barrel can only yield the wine that’s in it – Corsican Proverb
CORSICAN FOOD – A Tale of Chestnuts, Cheese and Animals Grazing the Maquis
Corsica is wild—Balzac’s ‘’back of beyond’’; a seabound granite precipice where vendettas and feuds, not lawsuits, are the rule; an island
where free-range animals live side by side with free-range people—who would rather hunt and gather than farm and fish. (Why grow
wheat when chestnuts fall from trees?) Although Corsica has been under French control since 1768, its fiercely independent inhabitants
have always kept central government at arm’s length.
Wherever you look you see the famed maquis corse, or Corsican scrub—a dense, fragrant underbrush of oak, juniper, thorn, heather, and
wild herbs and flowers that covers much of the island. Its bittersweet lemon-pepper aroma, described as ‘’akin to incense’’ by English
anthropologist Dorothy Carrington in her award-winning Granite Island has earned Corsica the sobriquet The Perfumed Isle. The food
bears witness to the wilderness and is heartiness incarnate: unctuous stews and soups, wonderful smoked and roasted meats, powerful
cheeses— derive their unmistakable character from the maquis. The scrub also provides ideal grazing for game as well as for free-range
pigs, cows, sheep, and goats—all of which forage at their leisure, resulting in especially aromatic and flavourful meats and milks. And
Corsica’s industrious cooks utilize this bounty to the fullest.
Consider a goat stew, storzapreti—gratinéed cheese dumplings with mint and egg—and soupe corse, this last a local favourite, a
mountain soup, also called soupe montagne or soupe paysanne which includes a meaty ham bone—schincu in Corsican, an archaic mix of
Latin and Italian—olive oil, garlic, potatoes, noodles, and heaps of vegetables and herbs.
Cheese is still an enormously important part of the Corsican diet. Until a few years ago, cheesemakers often worked out of their
shepherd’s farm buildings, usually a small stone or wooden hut. New French laws now prohibit this
Brocciu, a light fresh ricotta-style
cheese with a flavour of the maquis, plays a part in many Corsican dishes, including storzapreti, omelettes, and beignets, and is commonly
eaten at breakfast seasoned with salt and pepper or topped with jam. The island’s cheese industry is composed mainly of small producers,
who specialize in a single type of cheese. However, reflective of Corsica’s independent, often rebellious nature, cheeses here—unlike
those in the rest of France—do not usually have specific names. When dining out in restaurants or people’s homes, the choice is likely to
be simply brebis, from sheep, or chèvre, from goats. Corsican cheeses are generally salty with an assertive taste and smell. Two of the
classic ones are the soft and creamy bastelicacciu (a brebis), from the Ajaccio region, and the sticky, tangy niolu (which may be either
sheep’s or goat’s milk), from the village of Casamaccioli.
Chestnuts are another story. Used for everything from flan to beer, they have been a staple on the island since the Middle Ages. With
Corsica’s steep terrain unfavourable to the cultivation of wheat, the chestnut has filled the void and shown remarkable versatility in the
process. Dubbed l’arbre à pain, which literally means ‘’bread tree’’, the chestnut tree is valued not only for its fruit but also for its wood,
which is used to build everything from traditional Corsican houses to coffins. The famed Farina castagnina (chestnut flour) is made by
drying whole chestnuts, gathered in the fall, over a chestnut-wood fire for about three weeks, until they are sapped of nearly all their
water. After the shells and skins are removed, the fruit is slowly baked for about a day until it partly caramelizes. Finally, it is milled into
flour. Darker and sweeter than wheat flour, chestnut flour is used in cakes, beignets, crêpes, cookies, and more. It is also the basis of
pulenda, a dense, earthy substance—not to be confused with cornmeal polenta—that traditionally accompanies goat stew, roast lamb, and
other hearty dishes. Cooking pulenda is a little like mixing cement: Chestnut flour is sprinkled into boiling salted water and stirred until it
is nearly solid (needless to say, weak arms need not apply). It is then placed on a flour-covered cloth, patted down, and sliced with string
Corsica’s prisuttu, or smoked ham, is on a par with Italy’s prosciutto di Parma and Spain’s jamón serrano. Also noteworthy are coppa
(salted and peppered pork loin) and lonzu (preserved pork loin served in paper-thin slices). One of the great local earthy delicacies are
ficatelli—small sausages made of finely chopped pigs’ livers that have been marinated in wine, garlic, and peppercorns, then stuffed
into casings and smoked. These dark, aromatic beauties are served raw, sautéed, or grilled.
Corsican wines have a very distinct identity, initially due to a long tradition and knowledge of wine-making. Six centuries before
Christ, the Greeks were making Alalia wine (from Aleria), one of their favourite drinks. In 35 BC Virgil mentioned the wine of the
Balagne, ruby-coloured and agreeable to the palate. During the centuries of trouble and invasion which followed the fall of the Roman
Empire, the vines survived, awaiting the return of peace, and of wine-makers. From the 11
century, the Pisans, who had become the
administrators of the island, put Corsican wine in the vessels of their priests and the goblets of their nobles. A century later, the
Genoese, having replaced the Pisans, did the same. After 1769, French sovereignty did not put an end to wine-making activity and to
wine exports to Italy. But, after 1850, first oïdium, and then phylloxera ravaged the vines. These blights were, however, overcome. By
the end of the century there had even been a renewal in sales overseas, and the development of several important domains. However,
from the early years of the twentieth century a general collapse in wine prices halted this expansion, and the Great War completed the
decline, killing, with the same weapon, the men, the vines and the commercial links. There remained only a few marginal sectors of
production. Fifty years were to pass before the island’s viticulture became again a valid sector of the economy.
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(The most famous Columbo quote)
Rich in tradition, the identity of Corsican wine is also one of variety and quality. These attributes are the result of a selection of native
grape varieties (principally Sciaccarellu, Niellucciu and Vermentinu) and of imported ones (Cabernet-Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir,
Grenache, Syrah, Chardonnay) as well as of a variety of natural conditions (soil, relief and climate). The AOC (Appellation d’Origine
Controllée) wines are, in fact, determined by the localisation and proportion of the native grape varieties and by the special nature of
each producing region.
There are nine Appellations, at three levels: Corse, Village and Cru. The Appellation Corse is applied to the whole of the island, but
mainly concerns the east coast and the Golo valley. The character of this Appellation comes from the high percentage of imported,
mainly Mediterranean varieties (Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan). The Appellation Corse-Village is given to five regions: Calvi, Cap
Corse, Figari, Porto Vecchio and Sartène. In these regions the proportion of native Corsican grape varieties is higher. These are mainly
Sciaccarellu and Niellucciu, except in Cap Corse where Vermentinu predominates.
The Appellation Cru is applied to two regions: Ajaccio and Patrimonio. Sciaccarellu is the predominant variety in the former, whilst
Niellucciu characterises the latter. Niellucciu is the variety which gives the wines of Patrimonio their renown. It produces a full-
bodied wine of a deep red colour, supple and rich, said to have “un nez de fourrure de lièvre et de règlisse”: a nose of “hare-fur” (a
term used to describe its subtle gamey bouquet) and liquorice. These wines also have scents of red berries, violets, spices and apricots.
Studies carried out in the 1980s have shown that the Niellucciu grape is no other than the Tuscan variety, Sangiovese, of the famous
Chianti Classico. Sciaccarellu is the black grape variety characteristic of the granite areas of the island. It is considered apt for
producing wines suitable for ageing, and produces wines of great distinction, with a peppery nose. In its bouquet one finds aromas of
red fruits (blackcurrants, raspberries and redcurrants), almonds and charred wood, and flavours of peach and almonds.
Vermentinu is the white grape variety of Cap Corse. This grape comes from the Malvoisie line, the great Mediterranean variety.
Vermentinu produces white wines which are among the best of the Mediterranean. They vary in colour from pale and transparent to
golden-yellow. These wines, crystal clear, are characterised by floral aromas, lightness and freshness. The golden-coloured wines are
more aromatic than fruity, and have an after-taste of almonds, hazelnuts, apples and honey. If today they are less highly prized than
the pale wines, they are the only ones which can be aged.
CLOS CULOMBU, ETIENNE SUZZONI, CALVI, Corsica
“A glass of Corsican wine and I’ll climb the Stromboli” – Tuscan Proverb (not a compliment!)
Founded in 1973 by Paul Suzzoni, this vineyard covers 39 of the 95 hectares that comprise the estate. Since 1986,
Etienne Suzzoni, Paul’s brother, has been at the helm of the enterprise. Le Clos Culombu is situated between the Gulf
of Calvi and the Montegrossu mountains, whose peaks reach 2000 metres and the vineyard has direct southern
exposition; there are 15 hillside parcels and vines are planted in arena-shaped granite formations on terraces of clay-
rich soils. Situated only 2 kilometres from the sea and 8 kilometres from the mountain peaks, the vineyard enjoys a
very particular micro-climate. The varietals planted (in keeping with the island’s traditional practices) are
Vermentinu, Sciaccarellu, Niellucciu and Elegante. The soil is worked in the traditional manner and minimal weed
killer and chemicals are used. The yields are kept low to maintain quality by de-budding and bunch-thinning of
Both Vermentinos are typically aromatic combining notes of citrus, fresh grass, herbs, and almonds with a crisp and
acidic framework. The Domaine wine is softer in the mouth with a touch of verbena and lime; the Clos has more
structure and fine mineral notes plus leesy creaminess, apricot and white chocolate undertones.
The baby Culombu rouge is an attractive blend of 50% Grenache, 30% Niellucio, 20% Syrah, with prefermentation cold
soaking for five days followed by a twelve day cuvaison, with “elevage” on fine lees. Unwooded, it is ruby red, with an
intense nose of fresh summer fruits and a hint of fleurs de maquis and classic Grenache strawberry-and-cherry fruit. The
more extracted Clos Culombu from 50% Niellucio, 30% Sciaccarello 30%, Syrah 10% and Grenache 10%, undergoes a
pre-fermentation cold soaking for six days, followed by twenty-six day maceration with “pigeages”.
Indecently purple, with a complex nose of red fruits, spice, jam and liquorice it fills the mouth with rich fruit flavours and
reveals a good tannic structure.
Serve the reds with grilled pork with rosemary, beef tartar, thin-sliced carpaccio of beef with basil, civet de lapin—
rabbit cooked with thyme, laurel and garlic and Corsican cheeses with herbs – but not necessarily at the same time all
VIN DE CORSE, DOMAINE CULOMBU BLANC
VIN DE CORSE, CLOS CULOMBU BLANC
VIN DE CORSE, DOMAINE CULOMBU ROUGE « TRIBBIERA »
VIN DE CORSE, CLOS CULOMBU ROUGE
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ANTOINE ARENA, PATRIMONIO, Corsica – Biodynamic
Antoine Arena, like most Corsicans of his generation, grew up in a family that earned a modest living working the land on an
island largely unknown to the outside world. As soon as he could he joined the mass exodus of Corsicans to the French
mainland, in search of jobs and what they thought to be a better life. Several years later in the mid 1970s, with a promising
career on the mainland, the Corsican independence movement exploded with violent confrontations between nationalists and
French government forces, leaving Antoine stunned.
In his shock and anger, he moved back to the family farm and decided to reverse the trend and remain on the land, as his own
form of protest. Many others soon followed his lead, and for the first time in over a century, the emigration from the island
ebbed and Corsicans came back home to reclaim their land. “I became a farmer by protest,” he says. It might have been
political activism that detoured him from a law career into agriculture, but Arena soon was passionate about turning his
father’s 3-ha domaine into one of the island’s leading vineyards. Biodynamics, it seems, come naturally to him, with his
dislike for large agrochemical companies equal to his strong attachment to his island. “There’s a sign I remember seeing in
the 1980s,” he says: “Jettez les pelles, et mettez l’herbicide.” This translates roughly as “Throw away your shovels, and put
down weed killer.” The Arenas use just 800 grams of sulphur per hectare to treat their vines for powdery mildew according
to Jean-Baptiste, Antoine’s son. That’s just a fraction, he explained, of the four kilos per hectare that the biodynamic
To survive off the land, Antoine knew he would need to show the world outside of Corsica what Patrimonio was capable of.
And so his mission began to make the best out of the land; he started identifying the best parcels and vinifying them
separately, and was one of the first growers to worke the vines organically and vinify without any added sulphur.
Now Antoine is joined by his two sons, Antoine-Marie and Jean-Baptiste who share Antoine’s spirit and continue to work the
land and make the wine naturally, as taught from their father.
The Carco vineyard is on an eastern facing slope, cleared of its maquis and planted in 1987 by Antoine. The name of the
parcel, Carco, dates back to at least Napoleonic times, and in Corsican means “busy,” most likely due to the fact that it was
covered in densely planted olive trees at that time, before being abandoned. Two different wines come from this vineyard: the
Patrimonio Carco Rouge, from Niellucciu (1ha) and the Patrimonio Carco Blanc (2ha), 100% Vermentinu. (Vermentinu
arrived in Patrimonio well before Niellucciu, although the date of its arrival is still unclear).
From low-yielding hand-harvested vines this Vermentinu is fermented naturally with low sulphur in cement cuves and take
place a long time (6-8 months) on the fine lees. It completes its malo naturally and then is bottled without filtration or fining.
The colour is straw and clear with a shimmer of trapped gas. Aromas of salted roasted nuts give some indication of the
extreme ripeness of the wine, stone/mineral, plump, sweet fruit flavour in the vicinity of green bananas and mushy ripe pears.
Throw in some preserved lemons and oranges, maybe a little mint. These are punctuated with fennel and sweet herb flavours.
Think heat, think rocks, think garrigue.
The Morta Maio vineyard was planted in 2001 with only Niellucciu. There is just a single cuvée from this parcel, the
Patrimonio “Morta Maio” Rouge. This is often the most approachable of the reds when young—dark, earthy, chewy and
juicy. Morta Maio translates as “The Eldest Myrtle.” Morta = Myrtle in Corsican, the shrub that makes up the bulk of the
maquis in Patrimonio. (In other parts of Corsica they spell Morta as Murtha, where you can see more of the resemblance to
the word Myrtle). Maio = The Eldest, or the oldest. This parcel, which has belonged to the Arena family for over 400 years,
immediately surrounds their house and was used as brush pasture for the donkeys who worked the vines. Since the parcel has
been in use for so long (longer than the 400 years it has belonged to the Arenas) the term “Maio” was added to it.
This Niellucciu is fermented in cement cuve with its own yeats and without temperature and is aged for a further period in
concrete before bottling without filtering or fining.
Niellucciu is Sangiovese with a Corsican rustic twist. vividly fresh, infectiously juicy ripe cherry mingled on a satiny palate
with nut oils and steeped with fruit pit, lavender, fennel, rosemary, and white pepper. As this opens to the air, a
mouthwatering savuor of roasted red meat and pan scrapings joins the wine’s downright refreshing as well as invigorating
juicy fruit and pungent herbal essences,
Handle with thick kid gauntlets.
MORTA MAIO ROUGE
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“… the river that moves sideways, boldly challenging the psychic cartography which
decrees that everything about France is aligned north to south.”
The 2012 vintage in the Loire was one to remember for the wrong reasons. A rainy
spring and a cool sunless summer diluted much Muscadet, but Pierre Luneau’s
emerged with the nervous concentration of good Chablis. The wines from Anjou-
Saumur were also affected, although those who harvested late made reds with good
colour and excellent balance. The dry Chenin from this vintage has good definition
and a nice touch of austerity; however, more rain in October and November ensured
that sweet wines were at a premium. Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé from a
comparatively small harvest showed ripe wines with firmness, length and character.
Prices, on the other hand, are beginning to leave a slightly sour taste in the mouth.
2009 saw hail and mildew, but quality across the board looks excellent. 2010 is that
perfect combination of fruit and acid; the reds are lithe and fresh, the whites, in
general, beautifully balanced. 2011, alas, is a bit of a stinker in Muscadet again, but
reds in the Touraine are deliciously ripe.
Loire wines provide the perfect antidote to palates jaded by bloated oak and hammer-
extracted fruit. If you seek the world’s greatest Sauvignons, some grassy, slatey
Cabernet Franc, delicate Pinot Noir, refreshing sea-breezed Muscadet, and above all,
great Chenin, from the austere dry wines of Anjou to the fabulous nectars of
Bonnezeaux, Vouvray and Coteaux du Layon, start reading now.
Imagine sitting outside a restaurant on the banks of the Loire with the sunlight
glinting off the water, lazily picking at a plate of heaped crayfish with a glass of the
local Saumur (or Anjou) Blanc. Does not the austerity of the wine melt away, this
product of air, soil and water around you? Your mouth tingles as the pungent acidity
slides around touching every corner and impressing itself on your memory buds.
And you drink and you eat, and the wine seasons the food, and the food seasons the
wine, and the sun and the scenery season your mood.
Invest in summer joy, weather permitting, with a wonderfully frivolous example of
this much-reviled appellation (Rosé d’Anjou to be precise) and consider anew for
easy quafferama the pale Pinots from Delaille, Puzelat and Pellé; fair weather reds
without the pocket pain of Burgundy. Meanwhile, our existing stalwarts –
Champalou, Laroche, Germain, Dagueneau, Bourgeois, Luneau-Papin and
Villemade go from strength to strength – transcending the limitations of difficult
Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup
And I’ll not look for wine.
Sweet Chenin tho’ sense from soul doth
It is a drink divine;
When this, Jove’s nectar, I do sup,
I think I prefer the wine.
(With apologies to Ben Jonson)
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