Corsica is perhaps the birthplace of wine production in Europe. Its indigenous grapes have been vinified since at least 570BC, initially by the Phoenicians. With this distinction, it is little surprise that winemaking here has such an interesting history. In the 16th century, the island was taken under Genoese control, and laws were introduced to regulate harvesting and tasting the wines, as well as to ensure that all exports went directly to Genoa. When English diarist James Boswell visited in 1769, a year after Corsica was given to France, he was clearly taken in by the wines, noting: “It is indeed wonderful, what a difference a little variation of soil or exposure, even in the same vineyard, will make in the taste of wine.” In the same year that those words were written, a child was born to a winemaking family in the island’s capital of Ajaccio, and was given the name Napoléon Bonaparte. Later in life, Napoléon would decree that all wines produced in Corsica could be sold duty free across the French Empire.
Ajaccio is a large appellation along the Mediterranean Sea in the west of the island, with more than 260 hectares spread across granite hills over the city of the same name. It is one of the highest wine regions in the country, with vineyards growing at an average of around 500 metres above sea level, and some at more than 2,000 metres. The vines here can enjoy 2,750 hours of sun every year, with the heat tempered by the cooling influence of the sea and mountains. August and September can be dry, frosts are uncommon, and the mild spring begins early. Disease is kept at bay by strong winds, and the temperature difference between night and day is kept low due to the sea’s heat retention.
Generally, there is a huge variation of terroir across Ajaccio, depending on the specific interplays between elevation, winds, maritime influence and latitude.
The main grape variety grown in Ajaccio is Sciacarello, which is used for reds and rosés. It can be used to make full bodied and lightly coloured reds with aromas of tobacco, red fruit and spices. Vermentino is also often grown and used for white wines. Ajaccio first acquired AOC status in 1976 as part of Corse AOC, and became a separate AOC in 1985.