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Neuchatel & Trois Lacs - Cornalin

Neuchatel & Trois Lacs - Cornalin

Four cantons and three lakes together make this small wine region in Switzerland. The Lake of Neuchâtel’s banks account for two thirds of total production. The vineyards stretch along the lake from Vaumarcus in the south, through Auvernier and as far as Neuchâtel and Cressier in the north. The other wines from the region come from the vineyards bordering the Lakes of Bienne (in the canton of Bern) and of Morat (in the Vully area, which is spread over the two cantons of Fribourg and Vaud).

The main red grape variety in the region is Pinot Noir which produces excellent red wines, as well as the superb Oeil de Perdrix, a choice and fruity rosé. The main white remains Chasselas. A few years ago Neuchâtel winemakers started making an early unfiltered version which is increasingly popular.
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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NEUCHÂTEL & THE TROIS LACS (THREE LAKES)

Four cantons and three lakes together make this small wine region in Switzerland. The Lake of Neuchâtel’s banks account for two thirds of total production. The vineyards stretch along the lake from Vaumarcus in the south, through Auvernier and as far as Neuchâtel and Cressier in the north. The other wines from the region come from the vineyards bordering the Lakes of Bienne (in the canton of Bern) and of Morat (in the Vully area, which is spread over the two cantons of Fribourg and Vaud).

The main red grape variety in the region is Pinot Noir which produces excellent red wines, as well as the superb Oeil de Perdrix, a choice and fruity rosé. The main white remains Chasselas. A few years ago Neuchâtel winemakers started making an early unfiltered version which is increasingly popular.

Beyond Wine

  • The city state of Neuchâtel used to be part of the Kingdom of Burgundy.
  • The Val de Travers in Neuchâtel is where absinthe (named after the wormwood it contains) was invented in the late 18th century.
  • 9.6% of the Canton’s total energy consumption is supplied from renewable sources
  • The annual wine festival held in September, La Fête des Vendanges, is attended by over 100,000 people.
  • Large swathes of the ‘watch valley’ are in the Canton with famous brands such as Tissot, Ulysse Nardin, Certina and Zenith are in the towns of La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle.
  • One of Switzerland's most acclaimed writers, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, spent 38 years in Neuchâtel. Dürrenmatt also loved painting and his works are kept in the Centre Dürrenmatt.
  • Philippe Suchard opened Chocolat Suchard in Serrières, Neuchatel in 1826.

Wine statistics

  • 4.9% of national production.
  • Cultivated area, approximately 1,803 acres.
  • Grape proportions, 44% white and 56% red.
  • Average temperature, maximum 24°C in summer and a minimum -1°C in winter.
  • Sun exposure, 1,641 hours per year.
  • Average annual rainfall, 978 mm with 120 rainy days.
  • Lowest elevation 430 metres, highest elevation 600 metres.
  • Soils are Alluvium, clay, marl and stones.

Terroir

The soil is calcareous that originates from the Jura. Most of the vineyards have light and stony soil, however there is also some marly and heavy soil. Of course the vineyards close to the coasts are of alluvial origin.

The ancient calcareous soils around Neuchâtel are not dissimilar to those of Chateau Chalon, 60 miles (100km) to the west in the French Jura. These two traditional wine communes share another interesting characteristic, namely the quality-focused attitude of their winemakers. Neuchâtel was the first Swiss region to impose yield restrictions on its vineyards.

Climate

The area has a rather dry, windy climate that nevertheless enjoys about 1,700 hours of sunshine in a year. The climate is influenced by the lake, which means that the winters are mild and there is mist in the autumn. 

The Canton enjoys about 1,700 hours of sunshine in a year. Neuchâtel as a whole is one of Switzerland's warmer viticultural areas (topped only by Ticino). The climate is influenced by the three lakes, which prevent summer temperatures from rising dramatically and also dampens the effects of frost and snow in winter. The winters are mild and there is mist in the autumn. The vineyards are oriented in the most favourable direction climatically.

Neuchâtel has an average rainfall of around 1,000mm (39 inches) per year. Because it is not quite as warm as Geneva nor as reliably sunny as the central Valais, vineyard location is important. To maximise the vines' exposure to sunshine, they are mostly planted on the northern banks of the lakes, where the south-easterly aspect brings them warming rays all through the morning and early afternoon. There are some vines on the southern side of Lake Neuchâtel, around the lakeside town of Cheyres, but even these are planted on relatively sunny, well-angled slopes

Food

Saucisson Neuchâtelois: a sausage eaten sliced. There is a fierce saucisson rivalry between Neuchâtel and Vaud.

Suchard Chocolate: Suchard’s industrial enterprise was born in Serrières creating a love of chocolate. The region has several well known chocolate and sweet makers.

Cheese Specialities: Try a platter of Britchon, Neuchâtel Tomme and Bleuchâtel. But be warned the smell can be overwhelming. Britchon has a semi-hard texture, Tomme is quite runny and the blue is actually mould on the Bleuchâtel.

Torée (sometimes called feux de berger): a Neuchâtel tradition that consists of preparing a big fire in a pasture and cooking sausages and potatoes in the embers. It’s traditionally done in the Autumn (after the flocks are brought in) but it can be organised at any time of year provided you find a good place. Traditionally, the sausage is wrapped in a few cabbage leaves then in damp newspaper. The fire is lit early in the morning, so by 10 o’clock it would only be a heap of embers. The sausages and potatoes are buried in these embers without any other protection. The embers are then covered with fresh pine branches which produce a column of white, sweet-smelling smoke.

Lake and river fish: Perch is ever popular, as well as a local fish called Bondelle.

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.

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