Dry farming is a bit of a buzzword when talking about fruit quality in New World wines but for most of Europe’s classic grape-growing regions dry farming is obligatory because irrigation is illegal. This is possibly at its most extreme in the dry, scrub-covered landscape of Corsica’s Desert des Agriates. It is there, in the appellation of Patrimonio, that the isolated estate of Domaine Giacometti coaxes wonderfully balanced wines from this rugged swath of land on the northern end of the island near the tiny hamlet of Casta.
While one might expect wines from such a hot and arid place to express as overripe, in the right hands the wines can be models of freshness and grace with a subtle herbality whispering of the mints, laurels, and myrtles of the aromatic maquis shrubland that blankets the coast.
There are two driving characteristics of the Casta climat that help shape the unique expression of terroir in Giacometti’s wines. First is the granite and clay soils that impart elegance and delicacy to the wines. The second is a steady wind called the Libecciu, most prominent during the summer. This wind not only moderates the temperatures during the heat of the growing season, it also helps reduce the risk of disease in the vineyards.
Laurent Giacometti purchased the domaine in 1987 with his son, Christian, taking over vines that had been planted in 1966. Today it is the 3rd generation of Giacomettis, Simon and Sarah, that run the operation. The first goal of the estate is to create wines that express place. To accomplish this lofty pursuit the family focuses on organic farming and minimal intervention in the cellars. They are succeeding. With a nod to the old pudding proverb: The proof of the wine is in the drinking.
All prices based on the purchase of a 6-pack (mix-and-match)
$18 “Cru des Agriate” (Patrimonio Rouge 2015)
97% Niellucciu and 3% Grenache fermented with indigenous yeasts and then aged for 10 months on fine lees in stainless steel tank. While the grape variety Niellucciu is thought to be a strain of Sangiovese likely introduced to the island by the Genoese sometime around the 13th century, it has clearly been adapted to Corsica. “Cru des Agriate” exudes a heady bouquet of herbal maquis and lusty flowers over smoky cherry fruit. A sip is ripe, juicy, and downright poundable, finishing with a twist of pomegranate sap. It’s like a staid Chianti Classico went on a Mediterranean sailing vacation and came back with a shaggy beard and suntan – easily one of the most expressive under $20 wines available.
$27 “Sempre Azezzu” (Vin de France Rouge 2015)
100% Syrah fermented with indigenous yeasts and then aged for 12 months on fine lees in 500 liter barrels. While the Giacomettis mostly like to work with the regional varieties, they chose to plant a tiny plot of less than one acre of Syrah with the aim of producing a wine with the unique expression of Casta within the frame of an international grape variety. Along with a varietal purity in the aromatics and on the palate, “Sempre Azezzu” hints at the herbal maquis of the island while oozing generous aromas of bright fruit, flowers, and spice. A sip is lively and fresh with wild berries and a lengthy mineral finish. In a blind tasting this wine might be confused with an approachable version of Northern Rhône’s Saint-Joseph, also known for its granite soils.