The Valais is a large wine producing area thanks to the micro-climate particularly on the south-facing slopes of the Rhone Valley. A wide range of grape varieties are grown here thanks also to the different soils and local conditions – the terroirs.
As well as the local speciality grapes such as Arvine and Humagne, even the more universally grown grape varieties take on a particularly local flavour, which make them easily identifiable as from the Valais.
Fendant is made from the Chasselas grape variety and got its name because the skin of the grapes splits upon touching when it is ripe (il se fend!). It is the second most popular vine grown in Valais after the Pinot Noir. Its complex flavours (floral, fruity with mineral undertones) make it the ideal choice for an aperitif.
The Johannisberg originally came from Austria where it is known as Sylvaner. It is widely grown along the banks of the Rhine in Germany and arrived in Switzerland in the Rhône Valley in the middle of the 19th century. Its characteristic bouquet is flowery with base notes of orchard fruits and almonds and can be laid down for 20 years or more.
Slow growing and difficult to work with the Cornalin was almost abandoned in the middle of the 20th century but fortunately it survived thanks to the efforts of a few dedicated growers and now is the most widely produced single varietal wine. It is one of the best wines of the Valais with spicy notes of clove interwoven with fruity overtones of black cherry. t is at its best when accompanying red meat and game.
Second only to the Cornalin is the Humagne Rouge which made a relatively recent appearance in the late 19th century. It originates from the Val d’Aosta where it was established from a hybrid of Cornalin and an unknown variety in early times. It produces wines with robust flavours of wild fruits and violets with woody undertones. It can be drunk young, but on maturing for three to five years is a perfect match for game.
Dole is very widespread in the Valais and is composed of a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir varieties of grape, although some producers add a variety of other grapes to give more colour, tannin or extra aromatic flavours. As it is a blend it varies in flavour from one producer to another but at its best is full-bodied and high in oaky flavours making it very good with the traditional dishes of the Valais.