Last night my best buddy and I enjoyed a beef stir-fry with a bottle of Institut Agricole Régional Cornalin, from Valle d’Aosta in Italy, vintage 2006. The Institut Agricole Régional is an agricultural school in the Valle d’Aosta (Aosta Valley) which is at the very northerly top-western area in Italy and borders France and Switzerland. Yes, this wine is made by students. I believe in supporting student enterprises. This school produces quite a few wines under DOC designation, all with an identifiable painterly label style as shown here:
Cornalin is the grape variety used in this wine. This is an obscure and ancient grape not commonly seen on the market. Unable to find this varietal in my Oz Clarke book Grapes and Wines (a book I recommend to all wine enthusiasts) I found this definition on the web:
“CORNALIN: (a.k.a Rouge du Pays). Vigorous ancient variety grown in the Valais canton of Switzerland and used to produce rich, plummy, concentrated red wine claimed by some to be reminiscent of french central Rhone versions and often requires similar aging.”
I found an even more enthusiastic desciption of Cornalin here:
“A jewel in the crown of the winegrowing traditions of the Valais, Cornalin can pride itself on being one of the most ancient vines to be planted in the canton. There is no close or near relative among the other varieties: it is 100% valaisian. On account of its rarity, it is virtually unknown beyond a small band of enthusiastic connoisseurs. Cornalin gives grudgingly of its fruit, demanding the sites best exposed to the sun, and is late-ripening and capricious; it has broken the hearts of generations of winegrowers. It owes its return to centre stage alongside the great varieties to its supremely aristocratic character. With its violet robe, it offers a deliciously complex bouquet and a perfect body, a turbulent but splendid youthfulness, that age transcends in accumulated finesse.”
I did find this wine to be quite enjoyable and would buy it again. It is less concentrated than the above descriptions would suggest – somewhere between light and medium-bodied. I served it cold, as I’ve had to refrigerate some of my wines this summer, which was better in my mind than having them cook in the heat. The color is a beautiful light ruby-red. On the palate are plums, mint, a touch of cedar, and a definite finish of butterscotch. My sensation of butterscotch was unusual (to me), and I felt vindicated in this feeling after reading and attempting to translate this page describing the wine on the Institut Agricole Régional site: “..talvolta confinante con il caramello“, which apparently means ‘almost neighboring with caramel’ (literal translation).