A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cornalin - Valle d'Aosta, Italy

Cornalin is a more complicated grape that you might think at first.  If you just stick to the books on Italian wine, you might be led to believe that Cornalin is downright uninteresting, as there is hardly a mention of the grape in any of the Italian wine books that I have.  I was prepared to do a lot of digging for a little information and then try to stretch that into a whole blog post, but the real world has alternate plans for me today it would seem.

To start with, there are two different grapes called Cornalin.  In Switzerland, there's a grape called Rouge de Pays which is also known as Cornalin du Valais.  This grape is actually an offspring of Petite Rouge and Mayolet, two red grapes thought to be native to the Valle d'Aosta region of Italy.  It is grown in the Valais region of Switzerland (where they have about 116 hectares under vine) and is one of the better regarded red grapes within Switzerland.

And then there's Cornalin d'Aoste, which is an offspring of Cornalin du Valais.  Cornalin d'Aoste is also known as Humagne Rouge and is also grown in the Valais region of Switzerland, where they have about 128 hectares under vine.  It becomes a little clearer at this point to see why my Italian wine books breeze right over any mention of either Cornalin, as they seem to be specialties of Switzerland at this point, though there is obviously some connection to the Valle d'Aosta region of Italy in the genetic lineage as well as the naming of one of the grapes.  Switzerland does, of course, share a border with the Valle d'Aosta so the movement of grapes between the two areas isn't a particularly mysterious or rare phenomenon.

The problem that I now have is that it isn't clear at all which Cornalin I actually tasted.  My bottle came from the Institut Agricole Regional in the Valle d'Aosta and is labeled merely "Cornalin" with no additional information on the back label.  Both varieties have "Cornalin" as an acceptable synonym, so that's no real help.  I was able to track down the paper discussing the genetic work done on the two cultivars where it becomes clearer that Rouge de Pays (Cornalin du Valais) was not called Cornalin until 1972 and that the name was specifically borrowed from the grape called Cornalin within the Valle d'Aosta.  The Italian grape was first referred to as Cornalin in 1837, giving it historical precedence.  So the grape grown in the Valle d'Aosta is Cornalin d'Aoste, also known as Humagne Rouge in Switzerland.  Furthermore, the paper informs me that the Intitut Agricole Regional is the keeper of the "standard" version of Cornalin, meaning they possess the vines that are used in all of the genetic research as being the "true" or "original" Cornalin vine.  For those interested in reading more about it, the article is in the August 2003 issue of Theoretical and Applied Genetics, pages 448-454 (the authors of the paper are J. Vouillamoz, D. Maigre, and C.P. Meredith and the paper is caled "Microsatellite analysis of ancient alpine grape cultivars: pedigree reconstruction of Vitis vinifera L. "Cornalin du Valais").

Ok, so on to the wine.  As mentioned above, I was able to find a bottle of the 2007 Cornalin from the Institut Agricole Regional at Curtis Liquors for about $18.  In the glass, the wine was a lightish purple ruby color.  The nose was medium intensity with aromas of wild strawberry and strawberry jam with some raspberry and red cherry notes.  On the palate, the wine was on the fuller side of medium with fairly high acidity and low tannins.  There were flavors of red cherry and bitter cherry pit along with some plummy red fruit.  The wine had a definite bitter herbal or medicinal edge to it that tasted like anise or black licorice.  Pinot Noir is the most obvious comparison here with a lot of red fruits on the nose and palate, but it was a little fuller and had that serious bitter edge to it. If you think about trying to drink Trousseau through a black licorice straw, you probably wouldn't be too far off.  The wine was slightly improved on day two of tasting after being open all night, but it wasn't a significant change.  The bitterness was a little too much for me and prevented me from being able to fully enjoy this, but it was definitely cool and interesting and is something I'd give another shot if another ever crosses my path.

1 comment:

Albert said...

I am currently in Lausanne Switzerland and have had the pleasure of tasting both Cornalin as well as Humagne Rouge. They are similar but different but both excellent medium bodied red wines. Both bottles were from the Vallee region east of Lake Geneva.While I think I see what you mean when you compare these to pinot noir (medium bodied red), the smell and taste is very different as far as I'm concerned. I concur with your experience of Cornalin as described in this blog although there was not the bitter herbal or medicinal edge that you described. At least not to a great extent that it would be offputting. In fact I quite enjoyed drinking both.