John Brunton, The Guardian, June 7, 2013
When you think of French wine, you think Burgundy or Bordeaux, not Corsica. That won't bother the Corsicans: they don't really think of themselves as French anyway. But while wine has been made here for 2,500 years, the latest generation of vignerons have dramatically improved the quality of Corsican wine. And wine makers sell a lot of their production direct to the public, so mostly welcome visitors without an appointment. They specialise in traditional local grapes and, in a typically Corsican exception, there is no VAT on local wine, so buying from the cellar is good value: most wines start at €5 and the most expensive cuvées reach €15.
Winemakers to visit
Clos d'Alzeto, Sari d'Orcino
This sprawling estate boasts the highest vineyards in Corsica, at nearly 600m. After a lengthy drive up from Ajaccio, around dozens of hairpin bends, you're rewarded with a spectacular landscape of vineyards climbing up a rocky peak. The Albertini family have been tending vineyards here since 1800, and the present generation – Pascal Albertini and his three children – has built a state-of-the-art winery. Growing principally sciaccarellu red and vermentinu white grapes, they also produce an outstanding rosé, very reasonable at €7.60. Late-harvested varieties include a sweet fruity white, excellent as an aperitif; and a rich red dessert wine.
Domaine de Torraccia, near Lecci
If you visit only one vineyard in Corsica, it should be this one, between the mountains and the Med near Porto Vecchio. Torraccia was planted from scratch 45 years ago by one of the fathers of modern Corsican wine, Christian Imbert. He was instrumental in creating the official appellation and vastly improving the island's wines. Today, at 84, the patriarch has just about ceded control to his son Marc. Corsica is not renowned for wines that age well, but Torraccia is the exception: its Oriou wines especially, a mix of organic niellucciu and sciaccarellu grapes, are absolutely wonderful 20 years on. There's no need to make an appointment, and prices start at €7. People holidaying nearby can come and fill a bottle direct from the vat for €3.40 a litre.
Enclos des Anges
If there is a rising star among Corsican winemakers it is young English-Irishman Richard Spurr. Given how nationalist Corsica is, it seems unbelievable that a foreigner owns and runs a 13-hectare vineyard. Richard's vines look as wild as the surrounding countryside: he doesn't use chemicals, so weeds and wild flowers run rampant. His wines are also unusual: his intense vermentinu resembles a full-bodied chardonnay. Call to arrange a tasting.
• Route de la Forêt de Bonifato, near Calvi, +33 6 19 85 16 39
Domaine Saparale, Sartène
Visitors to Philippe Farinelli should also call ahead. From his Domaine in the south of the island, vineyards stretch every way you look, over hills and mountains. Philippe inherited a 1,000-hectare estate where wine hadn't been made for over 50 years, but today it produces some of the region's best. The Domaine has its own hamlet, with a school and an olive mill, which Philippe is turning into luxury B&B accommodation.
• +33 4 95 77 15 52, saparale.com
Bistrots and wine bars
Auberge du Coucou, Calenzana
In the heart of the Calvi vineyards, this auberge, which has been in the same family since 1934, is a favourite of local winemakers, because the cooking is so good, and because the genial owner, Serge Ricco, has 1,200 wines from across Corsica in the cellar. The young chef oversees the huge hunks of meat slowly sizzling away on the rotisserie. For starters there's a non-stop array of Mediterranean tapas such as tarte à l'ail, and the speciality dessert is chestnut cake with a sorbet of Corsica's famous brocciu cheese. Set menu €29.
• +33 04 95 62 77 00
Auberge du Prunelli, Pisciatello
René Orlandazzi, the legendary patron of this auberge, has just passed away, but the traditions of Corsican cooking are continued by his sons, César and Valentin. The garden produces all the vegetables and herbs, while the chef buys meat, cheese and charcuterie from farmers he knows personally. In the evening, most diners choose the excellent four-course meal, wine included, at €31.
• +33 4 95 20 02 75
La Ferme de Campo di Monte, Murato
This dramatic farmhouse sits on a high plateau with views over Corsica's northern mountains to the sea. Clients arrive at 7.30pm, and begin with an aperitif of fruity muscat. The no-choice €50 meal, wine included, is well worth splashing out on. Exquisite dishes from chef Pauline Julliard might include a steaming tureen of hearty soupe de montagne followed by veal ragout with strozzapreti à la bastiaise – delicious dumplings of brocciu and chard.
• +33 4 95 37 64 39, fermecampodimonte.com
Hotel Mare Monti, Feliceto
The Renucci family transformed this mansion into a small hotel 60 years ago. This is what Corsicans call a Maison des Américains, a palatial home built in the mid-1850s by traders who'd made their fortune across the Atlantic. Although the room rates are reasonable, the place is plush, with pool and terrace restaurant. Wines are made by the eldest son, Bernard, who offers tastings in the cellar.
• +33 4 95 63 02 00, hotel-maremonti.com, doubles from €85
Casa Maria, Nonza
The village of Nonza perches atop a steep cliff, and Marie-Ange Burini has transformed an old house into a comfy B&B with a panoramic vine-covered terrace. Nonza is at the edge of the most famous Corsican wine area, Patrimonio. Ring ahead to taste the wines of dynamic young vigneronne Muriel Giudicelli in Poggio d'Oletta, half an hour away.
• +33 4 95 37 80 95, casamaria-corse.com, doubles from €85
U Stazzu, Ajaccio
U Stazzu is an Aladdin's cave of charcuterie. The Marcaggi family have been raising black Corsican pigs for four generations, and once Paul Marcaggi starts offering samples of lonzu, a lean pork fillet, prisuttu ham and figatellu sausage, it is easy to spend a fortune. There's a daily food market by Ajaccio's waterfront and the Halle aux Poissons fish market.
• 1 rue Bonaparte, Ajaccio, ustazzu.com
Car hire was provided by carrentals.co.uk, from £105 for four days. EasyJet flies to Ajaccio from Gatwick and to Bastia from Gatwick and Manchester from £79 one-way. See also visit-corsica.com and uva-corse.com
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk