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Vermentino, the dominant white wine grape of the Mediterranean islands Corsica and Sardinia, is a marvel. Despite the relatively low latitudes of these islands, Vermentino seems to hang on to its acidity delightfully, and often has more than a hint of the sea about it. This lovely Corsican white Clos Alivu Blanc 2012, is grown on the far north-west coast of Corsica in the Patrimonio appellation (see this World Atlas of Wine map). Vermentino seems thoroughly at home on both of these islands and for long it was assumed that the grape variety was brought there from Spain when they were ruled from Aragon.
But, as we describe in our tome Wine Grapes (to be released in digital form at the end of next month), there is no evidence of a relationship with any Spanish variety. Vermentino, also known and widely grown as Rolle in southern France, is actually genetically identical to the variety known as Pigato – and distinguished from the local Vermentino – in Liguria, and to Favorita, the characteristic grape of Roero in Piemonte. Clearly all these vines have developed their own local characteristics as they have adapted to the different conditions of each environment, but the DNA of them all is identical. The earliest known mention of the variety was in the 17th century in Piemonte but it is thought to have been grown on Corsica and Sardinia long before that.
During my recent stay in the Languedoc, I enjoyed the Vermentino made by Purple Pager Graham Nutter at his Minervois property Ch St-Jacques d'Albas but he reminded me that, even though it performs very well in southern France, it is not one of the grapes included in the local AOC regulations so has to be sold as an IGP Pays d'Oc.
Clos Alivu is a small (3-hectare) Linguinzzetta estate which belongs to Éric Poli, who is responsible with his brother for the much more extensive Domaine du Piana. He incidentally is married to Marie-Brigitte Julliard-Poli of Clos Teddi, who, like Clos Alivu, also make a widely admired rosé. Clos Alivu is based on terraces of 50-year-old Nielluccio (Sangiovese) and Vermentino vines and its first vintage was 2005. Soils are a mix of schist, clay and calcareous known locally as petra bianca. The wines are elegantly packaged in their clear burgundy bottles.
I loved the bright pale lemon colour of the Clos Alivu Blanc 2012, the saline notes and suggestion of dry, herby undergrowth and the extraordinary flora of this arid, windswept island where all flavours, whether in vegetables or wine, are concentrated. There is real breadth and bite on the palate and, although the wine is quite refreshing enough to drink without food, I enjoyed it greatly with braised veal ribs marinated in lime, garlic and soy sauce even if fish might seem a more obvious match. Inexpensive Vermentinos abound and some of them have little flavour to offer, just freshness. But this wine was clearly made from particularly ripe grapes with its pure, persistent, smoky, juicy fruit. It reminded me of Cape gooseberries, or physalis, so well is the acidity integrated, but I would drink it before the 2015s are picked.
The Wine Society, which sells this wine in the UK, also offer the full-bodied, dry Clos Alivu Rosé 2012 at £13.50, also a relatively modest 13% alcohol. This, made from free-run Nielluccio, is much easier to find in the US than the white and has many fans. Malolactic fermentation is deliberately avoided in both white and rosé so as to retain as much freshness as possible and both are bottled in February after the harvest, the white having been kept on the lees until December.
Enjoy these wines, which are so very much messages of a place, although total production is only about 2,000 cases of a dozen bottles.