Switzerland Today

Wine

Cornalin

My favorite of the Valais reds. In fact there are two kinds, and they both originate from Val d'Aosta in Italy, according to Wikipedia, citing DNA profiling by the University of California at Davis.

Cornalin d'Aoste is known in the Valais and Switzerland as Humagne Rouge.

Cornalin du Valais, so named in 1970, is also known as Rouge du Pays or more often simply as Cornalin.

Vin du Valais agrees with me about the quality of Cornalin:" This is beyond a doubt the greatest of the Valais reds," it states." Cornalin has a fruity strength that is out of the ordinary...with its notes of spicey clove and fruity black cherry. It is delicious, with strong fruitiness when drunk young, but as it ages and calms down its takes on a remarkable smoothness".

It keeps for 5-6 years and should be served at 12-14 degrees.

The local wine site reports that the first recorded mention dates back to the start of the 14th century, though others say the wine goes back to the 11th.

But the grape is so difficult to mature (it's harvested in January like Canada's white ice wine) that production was nearly abandoned at the start of the 20th century.

One grower reports it had almost vanished by the mid 20th century but was revived thanks to vintners Jean Nicollier and Charles Calloz (Maurice Zufferey's uncle).

No wonder perhaps that you won't find it under that name in the 1982 Dictionnaire Provins or the 2000 Connaissance des Vins Suisses except in a table.

Provins reports of the Rouge du Pays that the Bishop of Sion used to offer two bottles from his vineyard to every pregnant mother who gave birth in the city, but this seems to be only a legend.

The dictionary describes the wine as darker than the Pinot, something like bishop's purple (!) with a bouquet that recalls Bordeaux. Many authors claim both Cornalin and Humagne Rouge as authentic Valaisan wines despite the DNA evidence that they come from Italy.

My favorite is produced by Jacques Germanier of Conthey, available for less than CHF20 a bottle in Manora sometimes. Even young it has a rich, distinctive taste. None of the others I have found come near it.

Note, though, that Vins du Valais gives a star of distinction to Maurice Zufferey of Sierre for his Cornalin Rouge du Pays 2009 (an exceptional year) but so little is produced (less than 1 hectare) you shouldn't expect to find it now. A 2010 bottle sells for CHF22 (Zufferey says the 2010 harvest was very high class). I haven't yet tried it, but watch this space.

One of the gold star winners in 2011 was the 2010 Cornalin of Defayes & Crettenand from Leytron, winners of silver medals in the previous two years. It sells for a reasonable CHF24.60 per bottle, with 5% rebate for cash payments. A Humagne also received a gold star.

Vin du Valais gold stars of distinction list for 2011

Zufferey website. Map

Peter Hulm is Advisor on Innovative Journalism to the European Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Studies (Saas-Fee/New York) and maintains the crosslines.ch website.