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Fleur du Rhone 2010 13.5%, Valais petite arvine

Swiss Wine Region #1
Switzerland’s largest wine region is the Valais, basically producing 50% of all Swiss wine. Truth be known, that’s not a lot of wine volume compared to all of Switzerland’s neighbors but in relative terms, Valais is clearly the wino-spot of the Swiss slopes.

Swiss Grapes Aplenty
Which grape then would you try if you were into trying grapes? There are a few you could locate in Switzerland without too much trouble – your Chasselas (never heard of it), your Pinot Noir (thanks Sideways for making it unaffordable), Gamay, Petite Arvine, Syrah, Cornalin (also a new one), Humagne Rouge and quite a few more. But Petite Arvine appears to the favorite of the Swiss press, people of Valais and even the wine experts.

Wine Gurus on Petite Arvine
Wine gurus really ignore Switzerland for the most part and one can see why when you’re looking at dozens of regions and hundreds of grapes – it’s just a lot to put into a book. Take Karen MacNeil, for example. She wrote 901 page book called “The Wine Bible” that you’ll see fairly often in wine bars and it has a great introduction to the wine regions of the world. There is exactly 1 page dedicated to Switzerland, and Petite Arvine receives accolades such as – “intensely floral, exotically fruity” – and is even noted as “far more interesting” than certain other Swiss varieties. Pretty decent phrase when you’re considering that all of Switzerland fits on one page, and in fact, it’s the highest praise for a Swiss grape in the book.

Proud of the Petite
Jancis Robinson (my personal favorite and secret crush – pun now intended) barely notes the grape in her encyclopedic “Vines, Grapes and Wines,” including it on a list with other Swiss grapes, and Oz Clarke of much fame heaps praise on the grape (“high quality”, elegance, finesse, “unusual minerality” are some of the words he chooses) and noting that he has a bottle of 1969 Petite Arvine in his cellar. Perhaps a bit of showing of his cellar of course, but clearly he’s proud of this bottle and this grape.

Tastes like green. Green apples, some green lime and NZ Sauvignon Blanc. Tastes a little rounder with slight pear, peach and quince. Not much of a finish – some green apple but finish ends quickly.

Detail Up!
Fleur du Rhone 2010 Petite Arvine with 13.5% alcohol from Valais, Switzerland – never before reviewed on the internets

Random Googles:
* Petite Arvine received its name because there used to be a grape called Gross Arvine. Marketing people can tell you which grape has survived… even though Gross Arvine is still in grape stock libraries, just not in bottles. Nowadays, Petite Arvine is being positioned as just Arvine by the (surprisingly in-existence) Swiss Wine pushers.
* Petite Arvine might be the most frequently grown grape of the Valais but Chasselas is king when it comes to acreage planted in Switzerland. Being a sucker for pie charts (and pie!), have a look at the dominant 8.36% position that Chasselas has compared to the puny #4 position position that Petite Arvine has at 6.46% – it sets one’s heart aflutter. If only that pesky 56.65% of “Other Wines” could be eliminated from the pie chart, this would truly be an impressive display.
* The other place in the world where Petite Arvine grows is Valle d’Aosta in Italy, which is basically where you land when you step across the border from Valais in Switzerland. No doubt there is a Hemingway novel about this very trek.

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Swiss Family Wine
Never really thought that Swiss wine would remind me of my dad and his brother, both men in their 50s who behave like teenagers when they get together. This is a fraternal duo who still prank call co-workers with Kennedy accents on special holidays. This is a fraternal duo who still laugh about spinning their youngest brother on the whirly-stools at McDonalds to make him dizzy and nauseous so he wouldn’t be hungry and they could eat his fries and happy meals. Predictably, the youngest brother is now a thin engineer who develops electric engines to replace internal combustion engines that rely on repetitive spinning motion. Coincidence or utterly predictable consequence? Only the engineer can say.

Photo by Kaboodle (Halloween Fun Purveyor)

Blame the Milkmaids
Swiss wine though has little to do with vintage McDonald’s, GM’s hugely successful Volt engine or brotherly sing-alongs. Swiss wine has to do with weird, unexportable grapes that are available in Switzerland only thanks to voracious Swiss milkmaids and inexplicable yodelers. At least, that’s the reason this wino believes the Swiss refuse to export their wines. Notice that it’s not the high price of the Swiss currency, the world’s most expensive prices or the fact that they’re landlocked and the size of West Virginia – it’s the fault of the milkmaids and yodelers.

Suprise – there is such a thing as Swiss Wine
Swiss wine (when available) has a few surprises with it. Random indigenous grapes that nobody else grows such as Humagne Rouge (today’s featured bottle), the surprisingly unrelated grape of Humagne Blanc, a Petit Arvine, Cornalin (the parent to today’s wine) and probably lots of others that are even rarer and can’t be found even in everyday supermarkets on one’s lunch break.

West is Best – for wine
Humagne Rouge is practically unknown anywhere outside of Switzerland and even in Switzerland, it’s really only in that region around Geneva in West Switzerland known as “Valais” that it’s somewhat known. This is a region that’s one wrong turn from the route of the Tour de France and straddles that lower part of the country near Geneva (American for “Geneve”). Most of Switzerland’s wine comes from this area, likely due to its lower altitude and proximity to France where all wine is consumed immediately and in enormous quantities.

View Tour de France 2011 in a larger map

Voulvez-vous boire avec moi, Moulin Rouge?
Humagne Rouge, as the “Rouge” name implies, is all about the color red and Nicole Kidman trying to play a French whore (ah-hem: “courtesan”) in red makeup. Spoiler alert: Ewan McGregor and Humagne Rouge are still together at the close of the movie. And yes, true to its name, Humagne Rouge is a grape that makes a pretty dark, really red wine that goes well with venison and soul-crushing lost love in French bordellos.

Photo by Wildsound, with assistance from Nicole Kidman

Quaffing Cherries
Why then does this obscure Swiss grape with overtones of lost love and excessive makeup remind me of my dad and his brother? If not obvious already from that description already, it has to do with the taste. Quaff back a glass of Humagne Rouge and you’re hit with cherries – not just normal cherries, but sweet cherries, then black cherries and then sour cherries at the end. And if you’re in Switzerland, you’re probably pretty close to ridiculously good chocolate. So you’re drinking your glass of Humagne Rouge with a bar of dark chocolate in one hand.

Gently Used Gifts Only
And if you’ve ever been to Dad and Tio Steve birthday, Christmas or Kennedy-themed parties, you know that there’s only one acceptable gift: chocolate-covered cherries. In a box, probably with one or two missing. This wine with that chocolate is pretty much that memory gift-wrapped, then unwrapped, then missing a cherry or two, then gifted.

image h/t photohead

Near full box of chocolate covered cherries. We’re talking Dad and Tio Steve sharing their Christmas gifts without anyone eating a couple cherries out of the box – an unheard-of feat! OK, maybe only a couple missing but certainly more than half a box remain.

Tasting-wise, it’s a cherry smell, then with loads of black cherry. Slightly sweet taste with moderate tannins that grow deeper throughout but still a light body. More wild blackberry later on that has some krækiber (pronounced “craigberry”) and other wildberry pungency – medium finish, not lasting crazy long or falling off a cliff like a coyote either. Kinda different in a good way with bit of sour cherry at the end. Drink quickly before your brother steals it.

Detail Up!
Humagne Rouge 2010 Valisiana from Valais, Switzerland (13.5% alc.) – sorry guys, no link. Find it at the really-fun-to-visit Coops. Perhaps Zurich’s best value lunch or dinner or wine store.

Google Randoms:
* Humagne Rouge (not related to other known Swiss grape Humange) is the love-child of an unknown grape and Cornalin (a vigorous Swiss grape also grown in the Valais canton)
* Valais is Switzerland’s largest wine canton.
* 1 person has liked Humagne Rouge on facebook. Ed. note: it wasn’t me but you can be the second.

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