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In many ways the Corsican wine region has been long misunderstood. To outsiders, it may seem that the French island has an identity crisis -- not quite French, not quite Italian -- but Corsicans have always had a strong sense of who they are. And as we get to meet more of the winemakers and discover more of the wines from that region, we're finally getting a better sense of their profound individuality and all of the wonderful ways the wines enhance our shelves and dinner tables.
Today we are delighted to offer a selection of certified organic and biodynamically farmed wines from Corsica's northern appellation of Patrimonio. Each of the red and rosé wines in this offer are made from Niellucciu, which is genetically identical to Sangiovese according to Jancis Robinson's Book of Grapes. We also have two examples of age-worthy Vermentinu that showcase the variety's potential for complexity; a style that may be overshadowed by the crisp and simple versions consumed locally at seaside cafés. Growers Thomas Santamaria, siblings Julie and Mathieu Marfisi, and Nicolas Mariotti Bindi represent a sample of the next generation of small, family-run wineries of the 30 or so currently operating in Patrimonio (according to their importer's website). Each of these estates have held up the old traditions of working the vines without herbicides or pesticides, despite the prevalence of industrial farming, and strive to make honest, classic wines representative of their local terroir.
Thomas Santamaria is the 6th generation winemaker at Domaine Santamaria. He and his father (who is still involved in the winery) have a total of 30 hectares throughout three communes where the soils are composed of limestone and schist. Thomas is passionate about continuing organic treatments in the vineyards, and has begun to explore biodynamic methods as well. They make two tiers of wines: the first is their modestly-priced, early-drinking red and white bottled under their "Tranoi" Vin de Pays label (more coming soon- stay tuned!), and the second is their cornerstone Patrimonio label. The Patrimonio Blanc spends two hours on its skins and is wonderfully supple and structured with savory, mineral acidity. A delicious wine to hold for 5-10 years or drink this winter with goat cheeses, charcuterie, or roasted poultry. All wines are fermented with native yeasts and bottled with minimal sulfur.
Julie and Mathieu Marfisi are the 5th generation to work the collective 15 hectares of Niellucciu, Vermentinu, and Muscat Blanc à Petite Grains at Clos Marfisi. Their importer reports that the southern and western exposed vines are planted on steep slopes overlooking the Mediterreanean in blocky, limestone-rich soils. The estate has farmed organically for a few generations and were certified for the 2018 vintage. In the cellar they work with native yeasts, minimal sulfur (and no sulfur for their "Gritole" cuvée), and vinify mostly in stainless steel. We've enjoyed these wines for the last two vintages and so far have found them to be incredibly reflective of their vintage. The 2016 "Gritole," for example, shows the much riper and darker-fruited characteristic of the hot vintage, while the 2015 was a bit more juicy and nervy. The exquisite mineral structure from the start to the long finish remains a backbone through each cuvée regardless of vintage.
Nicolas Mariotti Bindi just recently debuted in the states with his distinctive wines made from old vines of Niellucciu and selection massale Vermentinu, plus his juicy, fruit-driven rouge from his introductory "Cantina di Torra" label. As an intern for Antoine Arena then later as the head winemaker at Domaine Leccia, Bindi honed his skills as a vigneron and went on to acquire 15 hectares of his own certified organic vines in Patrimonio. Each of his parcels is vinified separately in order to showcase each site; the grapes are hand harvested and allowed to ferment spontaneously. He also indicates the amount of sulfur (low doses) he adds on each label. These wines make for an interesting comparison with Clos Marfisi as they tend to display more supple fruit and broadness on the palate as opposed to firm mineral acidity. We look forward to seeing more wines from this producer! Amanda Bowman
This 100% Vementinu is rich and complex after spending 12 months on the lees in tank and then bottled unfiltered with a small amount of added S02. The aromas are effusive with wafts of salty stone, orchard fruit, lime blossom, and thyme rising from the glass. The palate is supple and round with flavors of apricot, fresh herbs, and salt on the finish. This is one of the most unique examples of Corsican Vermentinu we've tasted. The 2016 shows less intense acidity and is wonderfully fruit-driven with a compelling chalky texture.This is a fascinating wine that will stand up to poultry and seafood. Amanda Bowman
"Porcellese" comes from a parcel of 52 year-old, gobelet-trained Niellucciu vines planted in alluvial soils. The grapes are fermented whole-cluster in concrete tank with daily pump-overs, and then spend two years aging in concrete before being bottled with small amounts of sulfur. The 2014 is an elegant and layered expression of Nieullucciu. The nose offers seductive aromas of cherry, cocoa, black olives, and violets. The palate is more black-fruited than the earlier-drinking, limestone-based "Cantina di Torra" bottling. Firm, fine-grained tannins provide elegant structure to the bold flavors of black plum skins, tart cherry, cassis, game, and espresso. Recently this paired excellently with pan-seared pork. Amanda Bowman
"Patrimonio Blanc" is made from 100% Vermentinu that was macerated on the skins for two hours and vinified with native yeasts in stainless steel. The wine pours a pale lemon color in the glass and offers effusive aromas of seashells, fresh thyme, and lime blossom. The palate is firmly structured with salty, mineral acidity that plunges into savory flavors of smokey underbrush, verbena, and stone on the long persistent finish. An age-worthy wine that should be even more beautiful in 5-10 years (but do not hesitate to drink now)! Amanda Bowman
"Rosé d'une Nuit" is an affirmation that Corsicans excel at rosé (not that there was any doubt). And while pink wine normally evokes summery images, this 100% Niellucciu-based rosé will be our go-to this winter. The 2017 is made using 20% saignée and 80% direct-press juice fermented with native yeasts in stainless steel tank. The wine pours a deep magenta in the glass and the nose offers complex aromas of strawberry patch, crushed seashells, cherry pit, and sage. The limestone-rich soils imbue this rosé with firm mineral structure and bracing acidity. Flavors of crunchy red cherry, sea salt, and dried herbs linger on a long stony finish. A fabulous rosé to pair with cheese, charcuterie, or even hold for another year or two. Amanda Bowman
"Gritole" is the name of the Marfisi's west-facing, coastal parcel of 30-year-old Niellucciu planted in limestone soils. After harvest, the wine is gently pressed into stainless tank for fermentation with native yeasts, then spends 18 months aging in concrete. 2016 was a hot vintage for the island, and the wine shows much darker in the glass than the 2015. The aromas are decidedly meaty and herbal, with notes of black olive tapenade, dried rose, and fig. The palate is supple with rich, grippy tannins framed by focused, saline mineral acidity from the limestone. Flavors of sage, smoked sausage, iodine, and dark chocolate coalesce over a long, briny finish. This bold wine reminds us of Cannonau from Sardinia, but it is in fact French! And impressively, bottled with no added SO2. At 14.5% abv, this is a rich but extremely food-friendly wine that will do well with hearty dishes this winter. Amanda Bowman
"Cantina di Torra" is Nicolas Bindi's label for the wines he makes from a collection of 7.5 hectares of north-facing parcels called "Carcu." The vines were planted in 1970, 1996, and 2006 on clay and limestone and were recently converted to organic farming by Nicolas. The 2017 Rouge is 100% whole cluster Niellucciu that spends six months in concrete tank before being bottled unfiltered for an early-drinking, fruit-driven style. Upon opening, the 2017 is a bit tight on the palate and offers aromas of roasted thyme, figs, and dark chocolate. After an hour open, the palate unfurls with supple red fruit, cherry stone, and coffee bean flavors structured with ripe tannins and finishes with plush strawberry notes. The nose also comes alive with charming aromas of strawberry, tobacco leaf, and violets. Despite being an "entry-level" cuvée, this is a complex, food-friendly find for those curious about Corsican wine at a great price. Amanda Bowman