A fabulous visit to Domaine Orenga de Gaffory
Domaine Orenga de Gaffory covers 56 hectares in the appellation of Patrimonio in northern Corsica. This family-owned wine estate is also undergoing organic conversion. It owns many small plots in five different communes. It means they have a broad range of red, rosé and white AOC Patrimonio wines. They also make the nearby Muscat du Cap Corse too.
As in all things Corsican, while Patrimonio is clearly French, the Italian influence is never far away. It’s a unique and fascinating mix.
Patrimonio has a stunning setting. Like most of Corsica’s wine areas, it has a coastal location. About 450 hectares stretch inland, spectacular limestone hills bordering the Gulf of Saint Florent. Meanwhile, the lovely towns of Patrimonio and Saint Florent are a mecca for summer tourists. Looking north from here, you can see the rugged peninsula of Cap Corse. It’s dark finger of schist points north towards Italy. No wonder this is a World Heritage site.
Patrimonio is also the oldest of the nine Corsican appellations, dating from 1968; the rules became tightened up in 2000.
Under these revisions, the Red and Rosé wine must be from at least 90% Nielluccio. This grape is the native form of Tuscany’s Sangiovese. White wine is 100% Vermentino. Most Patrimonio wines are for fresh young drinking after maturing in stainless steel. Relatively few wines get barrel-work. However, Nielluccio seems to have an affinity with French oak and can age well.
Bastia is only 18 miles away from Patrimonio by the main road. It’s a great drive; ascending into the high Maquis before tumbling down to the seashore at Saint Florent. On the way, you’ll pass the Orenga de Gaffory winery.
Domaine Orenga de Gaffory
Besides Nielluccio and Vermentino, Orenga de Gaffory also grows Sciaccarellu and Minustellu, red grapes wholly unique to Corsica. Their line-up also includes Grenache and Muscat. In a nod to nearby Elba, their Aleatico makes a sweet red. Muscat du Cap Corse, the sweet Vin Doux Naturel, completes the range.
I met Piotr Nowicki and his wife Karolina at an excellent exhibition of food and wine from northern Corsica. Both had previously worked in the UK at the Bolney Estate in West Sussex, and Piotr trained at Plumpton College. Now they manage Orenga de Gaffory and later on hosted my visit. Here I was able to discover the Patrimonio terroir and taste the wines.
Patrimonio’s central valley runs inland from north to the south. As it’s coastal, fresh sea breezes dry the vines. The hot Sirocco and cold Mistral winds also blow and cause violent storms. The nights can get frigid, though frost is a rarity. Grape ripening is a full two weeks earlier in the northern section. Harvesting the grapes is by hand and machine, picking in the early morning to ensure freshness. The late-harvest Muscat attracts botrytis, which adds complexity.
The spotlessly clean solar-powered winery can ferment each small plot separately. These can then be blended if required. For maturation, a mix of stainless steel and French oak casks create different styles of wine.
The Orenga de Gaffory range shows that Patrimonio is capable of producing high-quality wines with a sense of place. In particular, I found the barrel-aged Vermentino superb, the equal of anything from Sardinia or the Bolgheri. A shout out too for the sweet Muscat du Cap Corse called Impassitu. It’s a Vin Doux Naturel, a style commonly made in Southern France. However, this sumptuous example employs partially dried grapes and is concentrated by botrytis.
My favourite wine was Cuvée des Governeurs rouge, 2014, 13.5%. This wine is the flagship red, 100% old-vine Nielluccio. Matured in 30% new French oak for 12 months. Spicy and creamy, with a garrigue nose, dark cherry fruit and balanced alcohol. It’s ideal for meats, stews and hard cheeses. It has the tannins and acidity to age too, a true Vin de Garde. In fact, a bottle from 1999 was singing. Ageing has added leather and liquorice. A terrific wine, cellar door price €18.
Although Orenga de Gaffory export to the US and Europe, the wines are not currently available in the UK. If you’re in northern Corsica, then I recommend you pay them a visit, you’ll receive a warm welcome.
Update August 2018: The wines are now available at The Wine Treasury in London.
Domaine Orenga de Gaffory
Lieu-dit Morta Majo
For Piotr and Karolina, excellent hosts for my first visit to discover Patrimonio!