This mountainous Mediterranean island is a captivating destination for adventurous wine trekkers.
If there's a region today that should be called a sommelier's darling, it's Corsica. Wines from this rocky Mediterranean island, technically French but just miles north of Sardinia, have been steadily claiming squat chunks of real estate on America's most influential wine lists. "They're just amazing wines," says Thomas Carter, co-owner of the Manhattan restaurant Estela. "They fit with so many kinds of food, and they draw you back for more." These bottles owe their focused, minerally flavors to the island's mountainous topography and exposed position—the same qualities that make it a captivating destination for adventurous wine trekkers.
"The beautiful thing about Corsica is that it's still very rugged," says Enrique Ibanez, who owns the importer-distributor IPO Wines and visits Corsica several times each year. "It hasn't been affected by big commercial brands." While some producers have tasting rooms that keep regular hours in summer, it's essential to call ahead before visiting. If you're willing to navigate the logistics, you'll be rewarded with some of Europe's most exciting wines in one of its most dramatic locales. Here, four of Corsica's key wineries to visit, plus a bucket-list hike and a spectacular cliffside drive.
It's hard to overstate the influence of Antoine Arena, who took over his family's estate in the 1970s and showed that it was possible to make brilliant, intense wines using natural techniques in Corsica's northern Patrimonio region. Arena's Nielluccio, the dominant red grape in the north, has a precise minerality that Ibanez attributes to the steep land's hard limestone soils. "In the Carco vineyard, you have to use a jackhammer to plant vines," he says. Call ahead for an appointment: 011-33-4-95-37-08-27
Patrimonio is dense with vineyards, and Yves Leccia farms some of its best. A decade ago, he left his family's winery to launch his eponymous label, which produces small amounts of wine from a handful of select sites. "Next to Arena, in my humble opinion, he is the most accomplished producer in Patrimonio," says Ibanez. Tasting room open Monday through Saturday, June through October; otherwise, by appointment: yves-leccia.fr
Domaine Comte Abbatucci
"Jean-Charles Abbatucci's wines are amazing," says Carter, who calls the fragrant, fresh-tasting Rouge Frais Impérial a house favorite at Estela. Ibanez says it's worth seeking out the Collection series wines, made from field blends of indigenous varieties and named for Abbatucci's famous Corsican ancestors (two of whom were personal acquaintances of Napoleon Bonaparte). Carter and Ibanez both visited the property, located in the rolling hillsides of the island's southern Ajaccio region, in 2013 for the winemaker's blowout 50th birthday party. The celebration included copious amounts of grilled vache tigre—a delicious breed of tiger-striped cattle raised by Jean-Charles's brother Jacques. Wine and vache tigre available at the affiliated Restaurant Brother: restaurantlefrere.com
Near the far-south village of Tarrabucceta, in an area Ibanez describes as "way out in the middle of nowhere," Yves Canarelli makes some of Corsica's buzziest white wines. His sulphur-free "amphora" cuvées, made in egg-shaped containers from obscure indigenous grapes like Genovese, Paga Debiti and Barbarossa, are getting serious attention from wine pros in mainland France. Call ahead for an appointment: 011-33-04-95-71-07-55
Corsica is covered in mountains, at least 45 of which rise above 2,000 meters. Ambitious outdoorsy types will be drawn to the notorious GR 20 trail, known for its daunting length and spectacular scenery. Hikers tackle the 112-mile route in about two weeks, climbing up and down hills and stopping at mountain huts for hot meals and supplies, though elite trail runners have worked the record down to 32 hours. A touring company like Corsica Aventure can put you on a guided expedition or provide custom itineraries for less extreme expeditions. corsica-aventure.com
Corsica's most iconic road runs around the Cap Corse, a narrow peninsula at the island's northeastern tip. Expect to travel slowly, winding by cliffside villages and centuries-old fortifications. "You have the mountains on one side, and the Mediterranean maybe 100 meters down," says Ibanez. "It's just really beautiful."
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