Dôle appears in Switzerland for the first time in 1820, thanks to the renowned French-Swiss botanist Augustin Pyramus de Candolle. It is a grape variety of its own, from the area around the city of Dole in the Jura, where Gamay is king.
These made the reputation of Bordeaux wines; today they are used in Valais in some blends. Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are mentioned for the first time in Valais under the generic name of Bordeaux, in 1862.
Syrah is king among grapes in the Côte du Rhône in France, producing the prestigious wines of Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage. Since 1921 it has also had a place in Valais. It was brought in as part of the collection of grapes belonging to agricultural engineer Henry Wuilloud in Diolly, near Sion. He is also the director of the cantonal vineyard, Domaine de l’Etat, in Leytron, at the time.
The name Humagne Rouge appears for the first time in an inventory of grapes grown in Fully, around 1900. No one knows why the grape is called Humagne Rouge – it has no link to the real Humagne, which has white berries.
Here are two Upper Valais specialty grapes whose names have a rhythmic pairing, as do their family backgrounds. Lafnetscha is a rarely-found grape mentioned for the first time in the “Gazette du Valais” in 1856, with the name Lafnetschen Blanc: “Rarogne, where they sing the praises of Saint Germain and Lafnetscha White.”
The name Muscat doesn’t refer to a single grape variety but rather to a group scattered around the Mediterranean (Moscoto in Italian, Muskateller in German). They share the same aroma: muscaté in French. Their birthplace was supposedly Greece, but recent research shows that these Muscat grapes are not necessarily genetically linked.
Malvoisie takes its name from Malvasia, a group of Italian grape varieties used to make sweet wines. The name is used for Malvasia Bianca from Piedmont, as well as for Malvasia di Candia de Madeira, neither of which have any real link.
This is the antique grape par excellence. Rèze may be a descendent of Raetica (or Rhaetica), the white grape that was most widely planted in northern Italy during the Roman era, whose wine was vaunted by Plineus and Caton (Vouillamoz et al, 2007).
Johannisberg is mentioned for the first time in Valais in 1862, referring to a Riesling. Its name clearly comes from the Château Johannisberg in Rheingau, the world’s oldest Riesling domain. Le Blanc de Rhin appears at the same time and corresponds to Sylvaner.
Fendant is a particular type of Chasselas whose berries split (se fendre in French) when they are pressed between the fingers – the opposite of the type known as Giclet, whose berries burst (gicler in French).
The old Rouge du pays was the first coloured Valais wine. It was the drink of farmers, considered to have medicinal properties, but it disappeared when modern grape varieties arrived on the scene. Its first mention dates back to 1313. It was very much present throughout Valais until the start of the 20th century, and was well known for its restorative properties.
Petite Arvine was for a long while a wine in the background before it became an ambassador for Valais. Its very old age and the fact that it is a native grape are beyond doubt: this is a grape variety that has been grown in Valais for at least four centuries.