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Humagne Rouge - St Laurent - Traminer / Heida

Humagne Rouge - St Laurent - Traminer / Heida

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.

With its somewhat low yield, the variety is considered difficult in the vineyard and was not always appreciated. It needs good sites with deep soils. It is sensitive during the flowering period and sensitive to late frost. It brings inconsistent yields.

Like many other grape varieties, the facts behind its origins are not easily confirmed. One theory suggests that cuttings were offered by a grape collector called Saint-Laurent du Var while another that it comes from Alsace, where it was known as Schwarzer. Although it shares its name with a number of French villages, there is nothing to suggest that they had anything to do with the naming of this grape. Most likely is the idea mentioned above that it was named after the patron saint of chefs, whose patronal festival coincides with the traditional day on which the berries change colour. It is one of the first grapes planted at the monastery of Klosterneuburg in their experimental vineyard in 1863.

If you are a fan of Zweigelt, remember that in 1922 Fritz Zweigelt combined the Sankt Laurent grape with Blaüfrankisch to create Zweigelt. It is a very good parent indeed.

It is not however closely related to Pinot. Sankt Laurent is not the same as Pinot Saint-Laurent. Although Sankt Laurent is not Pinot Noir, any more than Carménère is Merlot, there are some similarities to be found. If you like a meatier, gamier Pinot Noir, try this – you will not be disappointed!

ophisticated wine with a lingering finish that continues to delight for ages. It pairs well with most food, especially meats and as many commentators advise, those foods which you shouldn’t really eat like barbeques, cheese and anything fatty.

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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