Written by Taylor Cameron | Wine Brand Manager | Farrell Distributing

See Part One Here

 

I’ve always thought of Domaine Giacometti as the “gateway” to Corsica in terms of both price point and reliability. After sorting through all the Arena family wines which consist of three different labels and a host of single vineyard designated wines which greatly reward ageing. It was refreshing to taste through Giacometti’s lineup. One white and two reds all of which come from a single property and are based on single varieties that represent the basics of what Corsica is all about. The island’s culture and winemaking history is in amalgamation of Italian and French influence as well as a hardcore sense of sovereignty. Niellucciu is genetically the same variety as Sangiovese. Christian Giacometti went so far as to say that Nieullcciu is the original Roman clone of Sangiovese and thought to be the purest expression of the variety due the isolation of the island.

This is debatable, but it’s an interesting thought. Giacometti’s second red is based on Sciacarellu, an indigenous Corsican variety. Think Pinot Noir meets Nebbiolo. Sciacarellu loves granitic soils so seeing it planted in Patrimonio is quite rare and is not permitted within A.O.C. regulations. Giacometti is located in what amounts to a desert situated between Cap Corse and Calvi and is constantly battered by hot dry winds coming from the Italian coast. This section of the island is inhabited by only a hand full of people and one desolate road leading to the vineyards. It takes true dedication to farm in this terroir.

As we moved southeast we crossed over the snowcapped mountains through a seemingly never-ending series of switchbacks. Once we hit the east coast of the island the driving became much easier. We spent one evening in the off-season resort town of Porto Vecchio where we met up and with Jean-Charles Abbatucci to taste through his current range of wines. Jean-Charles is a descendant of a local hero who fought alongside Napoléon in the French Revolution. Based in the granitic soils of the Ajaccio A.O.C., his wines are based mainly on Sciaccarellu, Vermentinu and other indigenous Corsican varieties like Carcajolu-Neru. Abbatucci makes some of the most inspired wines on the island. If you see one on a wine list, don’t miss out!

As we tasted with Abbatucci at a local wine bar the wind kicked up out of nowhere. Shutters were rattling, and you could feel the building shift with every gust. The next morning, we were met by sustained winds of about 25 knots, gusting into the 40s. In my experience, wind has never been known to cancel wine tasting unless you are scheduled to take the ferry from the southern tip of Corsica south to Sardinia. The westerly winds had built up a large swell in the Mediterranean that when pushing between Corsica and Sardinia amounted to ten- to twelve-foot waves. Needless to say, our ride to Sardinia was rescheduled to the following day.

Free time on a Kermit Lynch trip is unheard of so the group took full advantage exploring the limestone cliffs and ancient city of Bonifacio. The cliffs are one of the most striking sights in the Mediterranean. Their beauty aside, the cliffs drove home the fact that southern Corsica is not made of homogeneous granitic soils as I had previously thought.

Dramatic limestone cliff of Bonifaccio

The next morning the sea had subsided enough to make the passage. The residual swells, minor hangovers and the stench of three truckloads of goats (also making the journey) made for a few seasick passengers. While being stuck on Corsica for an extra night does not deserve pity, it did shorten our time in Sardinia. We now needed to traverse the island from north to south in one day while making some abbreviated vineyard visits along the way. Our first stop was one ridge removed from the west coast in an area called Perfugas. The winery is called Duperu-Holler and is brand new to the KLWM portfolio.

Anthony Lynch and the GM of KLWM had discovered the property and on a recent visit to the island and were very excited to get the wines stateside (?). Vermont will be seeing small amounts of their Vermentino and Cannonau (Grenache) later this spring. With only 3 hectares under vine, we will only be seeing Duperu-Holler is very scarce amounts.

The husband and wife team at Vigna Rada, another new Sardinian producer for Kermit, made the journey to Perfugas to taste with us due to our abbreviated stay. Vigna Rada is located just to the north of Alghero surrounded by national parks and coastline. Their 2016 Cannonau was more similar to cru Beaujolais (Gamay) than regions more famous for Grenache like Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Gigondas. I was impressed by the liveliness and freshness these wines offered. Vigna Rada will be hitting Vermont soon!

Next, we were on our way to Mamoiada in the center of the island where Giovanni Montisci farms a few tiny parcels of ancient vine Cannonau. His peers often site his wines and the best Cannonau on the island. At nearly 3,000 feet in elevation, it is necessary to harvest very late in the growing season. He often pushes off harvest until the end of October. Compared to Vigna Rada, Montisci’s expression of Cannonau is much more structured and full bodied. After tasting Cannonau from three very different terroir it became very apparent just how varied and site driven Cannonau is.

After too much prosciutto and few too many bottles of Vermentino at a local wine bar in Cagliari we dragged ourselves to the airport to head to Sicily. Strangely enough we needed to fly from Cagliari back to Rome and then catch our flight to Catania at the base of Mount Etna. We all jumped in our rental cars which were so stripped down they didn’t even have motors to lower the rear windows. A few Google searches later and we still couldn’t figure out what kind of car it was.  Nonetheless we made it to the working-class town of Ispica. The hotel was deserted except for us…or so we thought. Later that night after returning from dinner there was a private party carrying on for a group of policemen and what seemed to be local “businessmen.” We made sure not to interrupt.

That night we had the pleasure of visiting Riofavara just outside the town limits. We passed fields of a local artichoke variety before climbing a small hill topped with limestone rich clay. Its this specific vein of limestone and very close proximity to the Ionian Sea that allows the Nero d’Avola to retain a minerality and freshness that you don’t usually see in this grape variety. This biggest surprise of the evening (besides the world’s best cannolis) was a Metodo Classico Extra Brut that was crisp, clean and crushable (sounds like it was hard to drink…maybe rephrase?). Moscato di Noto and a small amount of Grecanico make up the blend. Thankfully the owner, Massimo, was able to divert some of the Extra Brut slated for Germany so that we will be able to enjoy a bottle or two on Lake Champlain this summer.

After a quick tasting in Vittoria of Alessandro Portelli’s all stainless-steel expression of Ceresuolo di Vittoria we were headed north to Mount Etna. Etna would be our last stop on what was a truly epic trip. Why not save the best for last?

Etna

Etna is one of those places that every wine person has read and or dreamed about. I had a pretty good understanding of the what makes Etna so special. High elevations, many different grades and aspects, single contrada, pre-phylloxera vines, indigenous varieties, a long trying history – just a few of the topics you expect to visualize or learn about when you visit. All of these wine “buzz words” were very present and wildly impressive, if not surprising.

What really resonated from our Etna visit to the Vecchia family vineyards was much harder to pin point. Maybe it was the anticipation of tasting wines grown on the side of volcano. Maybe it was hearing that the Vecchia family are the only ones to never abandon vineyards even when not financially sustainable. Maybe it was the incredible wines themselves. Maybe the smoking mountain in the background had something to do with it. Or maybe it was seeing 15 wine professionals from around America truly engaged and excited about their profession.

The Vecchio family has been farming Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio on the slopes of Mount Etna for nearly 140 years but have only recently started bottling wine under the family name.

Whatever the cause, visiting Etna with growers that have not only kept the wine industry alive here but have pushed it into the future was very enlightening. Anyone who loves Burgundy or Barolo should really experience Etna. Wines made from Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Capuccio drink like a volcanic crossing of Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir, but that’s not the main reason Burg-hounds should be flocking to Etna. These are site specific wines much like Pinot Noir from the Cote d’Or.

Wines from the northern slopes of the volcano are nothing like those from the south. Wines from young lava flows are different from those growing on decomposed flows. Then throw in elevation as a factor of terroir and you are looking at one of the most diverse wine growing regions in the world. Oh, and did I mention that it’s almost impossible to find a bottle that costs over $80? Try finding that in Barolo or the Cote d’Or!

Descending from high up on Etna towards the seaside town of Taormina in our weird little car we all had time to reflect on the trip. There was renewed sense of excitement for wine in general and an anticipation for bringing home new wines and stories to our market. And maybe even a sense of accomplishment for absorbing so much information day and day out.

Arriving at our last hotel I was forced to say goodbye to our crew. I had a 4am taxi and 3 flights ahead of me, so one last dinner wasn’t in the cards. Back in the hotel room I had another glass of Vigneti Vecchio Sciare Rosso, gave my wife and new daughter a phone call and set my alarm as loud as it would go.

 

About Taylor Cameron

Taylor was first introduced to the world of fine wine by family members who had just returned from a sabbatical in Australia. After graduating from UVM he made the snowboarder’s pilgrimage to Lake Tahoe. With Tahoe as a home base, Taylor started exploring the west coast wine regions from Santa Barbara to Napa and even into the Willamette Valley and eastern Washington. During this time Taylor jumped into the deep end of the Wine and Spirit Education Trust which he stuck with all the way through the Diploma program. Next stop was Seattle where Taylor received a crash course in distribution and small production old world wines at a boutique importer. After five years on the west coast it was time to head back east. Taylor took a job with the esteemed Michael Skurnik Wines where the next four years he “pounded the pavement” in Manhattan and worked with some of the city’s most exciting restaurants. Taylor is now back in Vermont and is applying his studies, experiences and vision to the fine wine portfolio at FDC.