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Cornalin - Traminer / Heida

Cornalin - Traminer / Heida

Cornalin is a traditional Swiss red grape variety grown in Valais. It is one of the rare varieties shared between Aosta and Valais. It gives fruity red wine with an elegant nose but a more robust, even rustic body, and often surprising (for those not used to Alpine reds) herbal notes.

Cornalin is a traditional Swiss red grape variety grown in Valais. Cornalin gives fruity red wines with an elegant bouquet and an intense crimson tinted purple colour. Typical flavours are sweet cherries, raspberries and red currants often with a floral touch such as violets, or a herbal note like raspberry leaves.

Cornalin's fruitiness is more like Merlot than Gamay, but its acidity is right between the two so you should expect a Cornalin to have good structure. Its touch of bitterness and rusticity, which depends enormously on the vintage, is reminiscent of Mondeuse Noir from Alpine France.

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The grape formerly known as Rouge du Pays.

Rouge du Pays is almost certainly from the Val d'Aosta in Italy as its parents are Petite Rouge and Mayolet. However, Rouge du Pays has only ever been found in Valais in Switzerland, where it has been grown for centuries.

It is a rather capricious grape and alternates between heavy and light yields, so it requires a lot of work in the vineyard. Starting in the late nineteenth century it was slowly replaced by Pinot Noir and Gamay and was almost extinct by the early 1970's. This is when the variety was revived and renamed Cornalin, taking the name of a variety thought to be extinct. Ironically the original Cornalin was alive and well in Valais under the name Humagne Rouge but that wasn't known until decades later from DNA testing.

With DNA testing, we now know that Rouge du Pays is one of the parents of Humagne Rouge. We also found out that Humagne Rouge is, actually, the lost variety which was called Cornalin. So yes, Cornalin is the father of Cornalin.

You may see people using "Cornalin d'Aoste" and "Cornalin du Valais" to make the distinction between the two uses of Cornalin, but if you know which country the wine is from there really isn't any confusion. Cornalin from Switzerland is this variety here, the grape formerly known as Rouge du Pays. Cornalin from Italy will be its child, the grape known in Switzerland as Humagne Rouge.

Origins and Connections

The origins of this grape are not without debate. It most likely began in north east France and south west Germany, though some believe that it is from Egypt and others, with no botanical proof, say that it is not from Vitis Vinifera but from Vitis Aminea or even other strains of Vitis.

Heida is the parent or grandparent of an impressive line-up of offspring, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Silvaner, Neuburger, Grüner Veltliner, Verdelho and Traminette, among many others. It is related to Pinot but the parent/offspring relationship cannot be defined.

In Switzerland

In Switzerland it is grown only in the Valais, principally in the vineyards around Visperterminen at an altitude of some 1100 metres above sea level, where the Föhn, a warm southerly wine, helps ripen the grapes. This is a truly old variety. The first written records date from 1586 when it was referred to as "Heyda", but it has been in use much longer. Indeed, the name Heida itself is local patois for "ancient" or "from an earlier time" and the French name "Païen" descends from "Pagan", i.e. before Christianity.

Plantings today are still limited with just some 15 hectares in commercial production. In the vineyard, Heida's grapes are small and compact and are yellowish and aromatic. It ripens mid-season, later than Chasselas, but before Petite Arvine. Heida makes, in my view, some of the best Valaisan white wines which can be complex and powerful, with exotic fruit flavours including quince. Heida ages quite well and should last 5 years without problems. They can also be versatile when food matching, going well with many vegetable dishes, cold meats and fish.

In Austria

Most Traminer in Austria is either Roter Traminer or Gewurtztraminer. There is, however, a rare grape called Gelber Traminer. Do not expect to find any Traminer on our website. Have a look at the details for each wine and see what it really is!

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