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Corsican winemakers make push on Asia

Vincent Cervoni, of the Corsican Wine Board, is determined to develop his country’s presence in the Asian wine market, and for Corsica to step out of France’s shadow.

Cervoni at the Vinisud Wine Exhibition in Shanghai

“Corsican wine does need a lot of explaining,” admitted Cervoni, the area manager of the Corsican Wine Board for Asia at a recent tasting in the French Trade Commission.

“Hong Kong is a mature market for sure, but last year, it wasn’t developed for Corsican wine. You could only find it in one or two bars. For most of the wines we need a sommelier who can go through the wines with the customer, explain the region and odd grape varieties and luckily, this is something we’ve been able to develop over the last year.”

Cervoni who moved to Hong Kong from Shanghai in January last year is adamant that Hong Kong can learn to embrace wine, in the same way it has with Corsica’s large and bullish neighbour, France.

“We are competing with the big French players, who have much bigger budgets to appear on restaurant wine lists and who can pay prolific importers. We’ve built a loyal following in the French restaurant scene and are now available in around 25 bars and restaurants in town which is huge leap forward for us.”

With the same moniker as Taiwan, “The Island of Beauty” has nine AOCs with just under 500 wine producers dotted among the mountains, sun bleached plains and rocky terraces. 15 native grape varietals are allowed under the AOC ruling but it is only three which are most commonly used in producing the 330,000 hl of wine every year.

For reds it is Sciaccarellu and Niellucciu – the cousin of Sangiovese – and for white, Vermentinu – though between 15-20% of the wine is permitted to use international varietals such as Malbec, Merlot and Grenache.

Cervoni works with 15 winemakers who represent, he feels “the best that Corsica has to offer” and whose wines best reflect the Corsica’s temperamental terroirs of granite, clay, limestone and sand.  Regulars at French fine dining restaurants Serge et la Phoque, Bibo and the Pastis Group will find prominent labels such as Clos Canarelli, Terra Vecchia and Scala Santa.

“The reds and rose are our biggest sellers. Rose only makes up 5% of the Hong Kong market but it fits with Hong Kong’s humidity,” said Cervoni.

“The best thing about the Hong Kong market for us is that people are more curious than the consumers in Europe. Without a long history of winemaking, they are eager to learn. We have over 4,000 years of wine production with Greek, Italy and French influences and emerging biodynamic and organic producers whose ethos is appreciated by the consumer market here”.

Corsica only exports 20% of its wine and before reaching Hong Kong, they have had to go through Marseille which bulks up the price and can lead to delays. Cervoni has also had to deal with Hong Kong’s Customs but remains upbeat.

“We’re growing in China and Malaysia, Singapore and Japan and our work with the French Trade Commission has really bolstered our presence. But it’s working with the Corsican winemakers who are so happy to have their wines here which really makes it all worth it.”

The sun baked vineyard of Clos Canarelli in Corse Figari on the southern tip of Corsica

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