Dôle, the many faces
What to uncork, 10 January – January is a month when I’m not ready for heavy reds again, after the holidays. This is the season for hearty vegetables, a bit less meat, plenty of exercise. A dash of purity – stare at the mountains for a while to regain your equilibrium. A fine Dôle sounds just right. If you didn’t grow up in Switzerland you might not know what exactly this is, but it’s long been a wine staple here: at least 85% Pinot Noir, 15% another red, preferably a Gamay. Those are the rules today, set by canton Valais, home to the blend called Dôle.
You might find that some of the “other” is Gamaret, Garanoir, Carminoir, Ancellotta, Diolinoir, Merlot or Syrah. The name may or may not come from the city in France; the history of the name is a subject of some dispute but there are vague, ancient ties. I like classic Dôles, such as the the one from Cave Ardevaz which won the Etoiles du Valais award 2018, and newer ones.
I’m not always a huge fan of the newer ones, but I very much like Chandra Kurt’s latest creation (2018), produced by Provins in Sion. Mouth-filling and dry, mineral – more dense than many for this blend, rich in red fruits and lingers longer than most. It’s perfect for January meals. CHF21.50 cellar price. Sadly, Cave Ardevaz is out of stock except for the half bottles, for CHF9.00.
Cornalin, to warm you to the toes
It’s Friday night and I find someone has put lamb fillets in the fridge. I’m not ready to ramp up to Rioja or a hefty northern Italian wine, nor even a Rhone Syrah. Cornalin comes to mind and happily, my cellar has one (two! what luck) from Cave Denis Mercier in Sierre, a 2017, which is young. We’ll let the other one age quietly down there but in the meantime the smoothness which is a hallmark of his version of this native Valais grape makes it wonderfully easy to sip. Cocoa and spice aromas, mmmm. Not surprisingly, this is also an Etoiles du Valais winner. CHF48, cellar price, so it’s not an everyday wine, but given the difficulty of growing this grape and making a fine version of the wine, it’s a fair price.
Take note: I’ve had two other Cornalins, also 2017, from nearby producers and these bottles definitely need to be cellared another year or two. The depth of a mature Cornalin – some call these wines rustic, but I don’t agree – warms you down to the toes, perfect for that post-dinner movie that makes January a relaxing shift from the busyness of December. A bite of dark chocolate, 64% so it doesn’t overwhelm the wine, ends the day nicely.
Note: if you’re American with a penchant for big fat cabs you’ll find the young Cornalins a bit light, but as they age they develop majestic depth. And if you’re a fan of classy elegant Pinot Noirs you risk finding Dôle to be a bit of a café or winter picnic wine. You’re right – learn to love them for what they are, stretch your wine muscles a bit!