The Désert des Agriates is a burnt-to-a-cinder landscape extending westward from the Gulf of St-Florent and the mouth of the Ostriconi River. This 16,000-square-hectare (almost 62-square-mile) area on Corsica’s northern coast is dotted with clumps of cacti and scrub-covered hills. Inhospitable as it appears today, this area was once a veritable breadbasket during the time that the Genoese controlled Corsica (agriates means “cultivated fields”). So much wheat was grown here, in fact, that the Italian overlords levied a special grain tax to prevent the financing of potential insurrections. Fires, soil erosion and general depopulation, following World War II, eventually turned the area into total wilderness. Several trails wind through the desert, but without a four-wheel-drive vehicle the only way to explore the area and its rugged coastline, which includes two of Corsica’s most beautiful beaches, is on foot.
The agriculture potential of this area is evident in the wine produced at the Domaine Giacometti, which is located smack in the middle of the Désert des Agriates. Christian Giacometti purchased the vineyard, which was begun in 1966, in 1987. The domaine consists of three separate parcels of vines that are situated at the foot of Mount Genova, the highest point in the area. From 1988 to 1994, Giacometti replanted a dozen of the domaine’s 35 hectares. Domaine Giacometti, benefiting from its granite soil, is the only vineyard in the Patrimonio appellation, besides the nearby Clos Teddi, that has both of the native Corsican red varieties, Sciaccarellu and Niellucciu, planted on it. There is also Grenache for red and rosé wines, and Vermentinu for whites.
Cool, sea breezes help to protect the vines from disease, and Giacometti has never used any chemical fertilizers. The grapes are harvested by hand.
The Domaine Giacometti wines have earned several medals over the years, and they are known for their consistency. The 100% Vermentinu Blanc Agriate white is particularly good. It is a pale-yellow color with beautiful silver highlights. Elegant and dry, with floral highlights and hints of apples and lemons, it also has the bracing minerality that I particularly enjoy in a white wine.
Discovering something so fresh and refreshing in such a desolate place is akin to stumbling upon an oasis in the desert.