Of Generals and Gastronomes: Domaine Comte Abbatucci

by Tom Fiorina on April 17, 2013

Another revolutionary Abbatucci.

Another revolutionary Abbatucci.

Jean-Charles Abbatucci of Domaine Comte Abbatucci in southern Corsica comes from one of the island’s most famous families. Its history is immortalized on the names of city squares and streets in the island’s capital city of Ajaccio. An ancestor bearing the same name was a military hero during the French Revolution. He became a Brigadier General at age 25 and then died that same year, earning him the right to have his name engraved as an “Officer of the Empire” on Paris’s Arc de Triomphe. Another, Jacques-Pascal Abbatucci, was a childhood friend of Napoléon Bonaparte. He served as a diplomat in Naples for Bonaparte and fought with him in the Battle of Waterloo. And yet another, Jacques-Pierre-Charles Abbatucci, was a prominent military figure under Bonaparte’s Premier Empire, later becoming a consul to Napoléon III.

The present Jean-Charles, along with his brothers Jacques and Henri, continued with the family’s military service tradition, each having served in the French military before returning to the family’s 80ha property near Ajaccio. Jean-Charles chose to concentrate on winemaking. When he returned in 1992 there were 30ha of vines that his father and grandfather had planted. He has since reduced that to 18ha, keeping several hectares that his father had planted 50 years ago from cuttings that he recovered from almost extinct indigenous vines that he found up in the mountains. This ampelographic (ampelography is the field of botany concerned with the identification and classification of grapevines) treasure trove of 18 native grape varieties has helped Abbatucci to keep his family name relevant long after the fall of the Napoleonic Empire.

The Domaine Comte Abbatucci Collection wines, named after Abbatucci’s distinguished ancestors, come from this single parcel planted by his father Antoine. Ancient grape varieties such as Biancone, Carcajolo Bianco, Paga Debitti, Riminese, Rossula Brandica, Brustiano, Genovese, Rossala Bianca, Morescola, Morescono, Aleatico, Carcajolo Nera and Montanaccia bring to life the history of the Corsican terroir with their unique character. These Vins de France–they don’t fit within the Ajaccio appellation standards–are made in limited quantities (around 1,500 bottles of each wine per year). All of the Collection wines are remarkably dense and rich, with fruit-driven structures that are balanced with good acidity. Their finish is long and memorable, making them worthy reminders of Abbatucci’s forebears.

He also makes a cuvée Faustine that includes a delicious white wine made from 100% Vermentino; a spicy and peppery red assembled from Sciacarello and Nielluccio grapes; and a refined and well-structured rosé that is made from Barbarossa and Sciacarello, and, during certain millésime, Vermentino grapes.

Jean-Charles Abbatucci uses massal selection grafts to reduce the time needed to productive grapevines.

Jean-Charles Abbatucci uses massal selection grafts to reduce the time needed for the grapevine to become productive.

Another interesting Domaine Comte Abbatucci wine is the single-variety white that Abbatucci makes from the lightly red-skinned Barbarossa grape. Most of the winemakers in Corsica, including Abbatucci, use this grape in their rosé wines. By pressing the grape shortly after it is picked and limiting the maceration time with the skins to a minimum, Abbatucci uses it to make a pale yellow-colored wine with golden highlights. It has distinct ripe-peach aromas, with a touch of tobacco and a slightly citrus-hop scent. The mouth is round and thick, and the aromas that you first smelled come through with a peachy, smoky taste. This is an intensely aromatic wine with the same lengthy persistence that is found in the domaine’s Collection wines.

Here, a branch from a Carcajolo Nera vine has been grafted on a 20-year-old root from a Grenache vine. The resulting advantage is that the "new" vine will start producing Carcajolo Nera grapes in one year, instead of the three-to-five years normally required for a newly planted vine.

Here, a branch from a Carcajolo Nera vine has been grafted onto a 20-year-old root stock from a Grenache vine. This “new” vine will start producing Carcajolo Nera grapes in one year, instead of the three-to-five years normally required for a newly planted vine to become productive.

Abbatucci has used biodynamic viticulture on his granite-soil vineyard for over a decade. He also believes strongly in a poly-cultural ecosystem. Herds of sheep forage throughout his vines in the wintertime, and ancient terraces of olive trees and untouched maquis scrubland intersperse the vine parcels.

This rational, holistic philosophy serves the Abbatucci brothers well. Jean-Charles Abbatucci’s brother Jacques raises rare, indigenous Corsican cows that he has trademarked as the “Vaches tigre” (“Tiger cows”) because of their striped coats. The cows are not as vicious as their name might imply, and they roam freely on the part of the 80ha domaine that isn’t planted with vines. Their lean beef is on the menu of many of the island’s finer restaurants, including the restaurant Le Frère at the Domaine Abbatucci that the third Abbatucci brother, Henri, runs. And this is where the Domaine Comte Abbatucci wines really are at their best, showcasing the delicately seasoned plates of Vache tigre beef prepared by Henri.

Perhaps 200 years from now people will remember the Abbatucci family as much for its gastronomic contributions as for its military and diplomatic exploits.



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