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Humagne Rouge - Viognier

Humagne Rouge - Viognier

Humagne Rouge is a traditional Swiss grape variety grown in Valais. Stylistically, Humagne Rouge wines tend to vary between darker red wines, a bit lighter than Syrah, with rustic and herbal notes over peppery black fruit to an elegant light-red wine, a bit like a well structured Pinot Noir with amazing tannins. This lighter style and what we call the elegance-with-an-edge approach that seeks to balance the two possibilities, are largely responsible for Humagne Rouge's increasing popularity, but the more Syrah-like style still has its adherents.

Humagne Rouge is a late ripening variety and the rustic and herbal notes diminish as the grape reaches phenolic maturity, so the choice of a vineyard site is very important in terms of obtaining the result you want. When discussing Humagne Rouge, Robert Taramarcaz commented that it was the variety where the style of wine being produced in Valais had changed the most in the last 10 years.

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DNA testing recently determined that Humagne Rouge originated in the Val d'Aosta in Italy (just over the St. Bernard pass from Valais) where it was commercially extinct, but has now been replanted under its original name "Cornalin". The original name is used as the botanical name for the grape so Humagne Rouge is (Cornalin). However, the Swiss had reused the "abandoned" name Cornalin in the 1970's as a more marketable name for the grape (Rouge du Pays).

In Switzerland wines called Humagne Rouge and Cornalin are made from different grapes, but a Humagne Rouge from Switzerland and a Cornalin from Italy are made from the same grapes. You may see people distinguish the separate uses of Cornalin as "Cornalin d'Aoste" and "Cornalin du Valais" but the easiest way is to just know whether the wine is from Italy or Switzerland.

Humagne Blanche (Humagne) is, despite the name, unrelated to Humagne Rouge (Cornalin). The grape the Swiss call Cornalin (Rouge du Pays) is one of the parents of Humagne Rouge (Cornalin), the other being unknown and assumed extinct.

Viognier can be a difficult grape to grow because it is prone to powdery mildew. It has low and unpredictable yields and should be picked only when fully ripe. When picked too early, the grape fails to develop the full extent of its aromas and tastes. When picked too late, the grape produces wine that is oily and lacks perfume. When fully ripe the grapes have a deep yellow colour and produce wine with a strong perfume and high in alcohol. The grape prefers warmer environments and a long growing season, but can grow in cooler areas as well.

The age of the vine also has an effect on the quality of the wine produced. Viognier vines start to hit their peak after 15–20 years.

The origin of the Viognier grape is unknown; it is presumed to be an ancient grape, possibly originating in Dalmatia (present day Croatia) and then brought to Rhône by the Romans. One legend states that the Roman emperor Probus brought the vine to the region in 281 AD; another has the grape packaged with Syrah on a cargo ship navigating the Rhône river, en route to Beaujolais when it was captured, near the site of present day Condrieu, by a local group of outlaws known as culs de piaux.

The origin of the name Viognier is also obscure. The most common namesake is the French city of Vienne, which was a major Roman outpost. Another legend has it drawing its name from the Roman pronunciation of the via Gehennae, meaning the "Road of the Valley of Hell". Probably this is an allusion to the difficulty of growing the grape.

Viognier was once fairly common. In 1965, the grape was almost extinct when there were only eight acres in Northern Rhône producing just 1,900 litres of wine. The popularity and price of the wine have risen, and the number of plantings has increased. Rhône now has over 740 acres (3.0 km2) planted.

In 2004, DNA profiling conducted at University of California, Davis showed the grape to be closely related to the Piedmont grape Freisa and to be a genetic cousin of Nebbiolo. We also know, through DNA analysis, that Viognier is related to Mondeuse Blanche and is therefore closely related to Syrah.

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