Thursday, September 19, 2019

A sign of the times in Europe–Corsican wines feel the squeeze

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Posted by Burke Morton On July - 17 - 2009

SciacarelloIt is well-known that Europe is overrun with wine that suppliers cannot sell, so they have been turning wine into ethanol to power cars. It is a shame that the exhaust from a voiture du vin doesn't smell like wine--now that would change the nature of air pollution.

To combat this glut, the EU has taken steps to reduce wine production by mandating the removal of grape vines (essentially clear-cutting vineyards)--a rather draconian requirement, but something must be done!

I suppose.

Across Europe vineyards are being pulled up, but this has been particularly hard on France. According to a Reuters article, this poses a serious economic threat to Corsica, the tiny (Italian) island (belonging to France) in the middle of the Mediterranean. Sounds like Corsican wines need a worldwide makeover.

Corsican wines? Who cares about Corsican wines? We can hardly ever get them in the U.S! Well, I care about them, obviously. I've had enough of them to know that we are missing something, and besides, more than half the production of wine on the island is ROSÉ, so of course I'm a supporter!

This is only touched on briefly in the article, but the reason we rarely see the wines is Corsica's "island status." Exporting wines is the main hurdle that wine estates in Corsica face. From the perspective of U.S. buyers, it causes further trouble, because the wines not only have to get to mainland Europe, but also to a transatlantic port and then to the U.S. That's a lot of shippers that need to be paid. I have heard varying figures (from those who've imported Corsican wines to the US) that shipping costs account for between 20%-25% of the retail price of a Corsican wine in the U.S. It's hard to pass on the shipping costs at the same rate as a Côtes-du-Rhône, for example, because Corsican wine can't command the higher price.

Pure economic considerations perhaps dictate that this source of wine should be eliminated altogether except local consumption. I'm sure that's not under consideration, but if the local economics of wine production stop working--which, according to the Corsican winemakers' association, is a possibility with the EU's land-clearing program--then the local wine trade would head in that direction anyway. And that would be a loss. The stories behind the wines--the voices of those who make the wines and those who drink them--would be lost. This is nice and romantic and all, but another reason lies in one of Corsica's native grape varieties, Sciacarellu, which exists only on the island. It tastes like no other grape and it has a marvelous fragrance. That alone creates a different kind of experience, and as so many wines from around the world are tasting very much like each other, a different experience may soon be in short supply. It also offers some wonderful opportunities for use with food, as the unique flavors of this grape (fruit is excellent, but it is not fruity, and it has a slightly thorny--yet not tannic--notion) draw secondary and tertiary flavors out of saltier foods, and these foods in turn enhance the fruit succulence of the wine.

There are a handful of Corsican estates that are first rate, but apparently the author of the article didn't encounter any of these at Vinexpo. I would love to see these wines more often in the U.S., but like the arts in public schools, the economics of it dictate that they'll be the first thing to get cut when money is tight.

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