Friday, April 28, 2006


Wine and Romans in Aleria

I don't often write about Corsica's east coast, but I have a bit of a soft spot for two places - Solenzara and Aleria. OK, I like Porto Vecchio as well but I count that the deep south.

I'll tell you about Solenzara some other time. For now I want to say what a great place Aleria is. Once the capital and garrison town of Roman Corsica, Aleria boasts some well preserved Roman ruins and a Genoese fort. If you follow the signs to the Roman Fort, the building you get to first of all is the Genoese Fort housing the museum, not the Roman ruins - so don't go away with the impression that you've just visited the best preserved Roman Fort in Europe! You have to walk awhile before you get to the ruins. The outlines of the building are clearly visible however, and a visit will be a good reminder of how extensive the Roman presence was in these early times. There are quite a few Roman artefacts in the museum.

The Romans arrived in 259 BC, and Aleria remained the major port for the island right up until the 18th Century. Its presence here gives the visitor an important clue about the vineyards surrounding the town.

So what's the link with wine? Of the two main red wine grapes grown on the island, Sciacarellu and Nielucciu, the latter has a first cousin in the San Giovese grape grown in neighbouring Italy. Nobody knows exactly when or why the link exists, but many have surmised that the Pisans and Genoese, rulers of Corsica in the Middle Ages, brought vines into Corsica from their homeland.

The Sciacarellu grape however is a lot more ancient and considerably more intriguing. There is no other grape anything like it grown anywhere else in the world. Perhaps the Romans brought it here much earlier, and then it stopped being grown in Italy? Perhaps it evolved here from some other variety. So next time you're in Aleria, go see the fort, look at the Roman ruins and have a think about all this over a glass or two of Corsica's rare and mysterious red wine.

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