Switzerland is not known globally for its wine – in fact before moving out to here I had no idea that the Swiss even produced wine. The majority of Swiss wine (about 98%) is still consumed within the country rather than exported. You won’t find Swiss wine in many shops outside of the country (despite being able to see Swiss vineyards from my balcony I still have to travel into Switzerland to buy Swiss wine as it doesn’t make it to the shops over the border!), but due to the wonders of the internet you can now purchase a fair few different bottles online and as a result its profile abroad seems to be rising slightly.
While there are some common grapes grown (for example Chardonnay and Gamay), many of the grapes are unique to Switzerland or even to certain Swiss Cantons.
One such grape is Cornalin (or Rouge de Pays/Cornalin du Valais) which is grown in the French speaking Valais canton (and is completely separate and different to the Cornalin grown in the Italian Aosta Valley). The Swiss Cornalin is a cross the Mayolet and Petit Rouge grapes (both from that nearby Aosta Valley) and was grown since the early 14th Century under the Rouge de Pays name until for reasons I can’t discover they changed the name to Cornalin in the 1970’s.
Apparently it’s not the easiest of grapes to grow maturing late and suffering from irregular yields and so needing a lot of love and care throughout the year as well as luck with the weather. As a result the areas in which it was grown decreased over the last century. More recently it has been having a bit of a revival, however the area of growth is still pretty small (only 290 acres in 2009).
However hard it is to cultivate that the results are well worth the effort. An intense and unusual wine, it’s both fruity and floral. The wine has is a concentrated deep red hue with a slight purple edge, it’s so dark you can barely see through it even when the glass is tilted to one side.
It has strong aromas of cherry, red berries and violets. That violet floral note carries over in the taste as well, sometimes as a mere hint but other times quite strongly present (like in the first Cornalin I ever tasted which was made by Clos de Géronde and had more than a hint of parma violets about it).
Also present are big black fruit flavours and general pepperiness or spice. It certainly packs a punch but it has very low tannins so it’s still easy to drink when young. As it goes well with strong gamey meats so this is the perfect time to enjoy a bottle or two. It also holds up well with punchy cheeses.
I’ve sampled a couple recently; 2012 Fleur Du Rhone Cornalin (CHF13.50 – Coop) and a Maître de Chais Cornalin (CHF26.90 – Coop).
The Fleur Du Rhone had an intense floral violet scent coupled with a whiff of cherry. In the mouth this was revered with the deep cheery flavor taking over and just a slight hint of blossom, along with a little spice, to taking the edge off the intense fruit.
The Maître de Chais was spicier than the Fleur Du Rhone and with blackberry flavours and a slight herbal note joining the cherry. In this wine the violet in the nose only not on the palete. Both wines were very lively and strong with a long lasting aftertaste. They were both slightly acidic when drunk by themselves, but worked extremely well with food (one time beef and the other cheese) which seemed to tone them down slightly.
Apparently they ages these wines tend to calm down a little becoming smoother and less boisterous. As I’ve only encountered young versions so far I can’t really comment on this, but while not for every night or occasion, I like the powerful fruit and floral flavors of the young versions.