2016 Cave Caloz, Cornalin du Lieu-Dit Les Bernunes, AOC Valais, Switzerland.
The Cave Caloz winery is one of my favorites and I was thrilled to see this exceptionally rare bottle on the shelf of a local market, and it did not disappoint, this single parcel 2016 vintage Coranlin by Conrad Caloz and his vigneron daughter Sandrine, who runs the show now, is a deeply flavored and elegant wine that is drinking fabulously well right now. I have been following Conrad’s and Sandrine’s efforts for many years now after tasting their collection of fantastic offerings at a Rosenthal trade tasting in San Francisco, I almost never miss a chance to grab a bottle when I see this small family winery’s wines. Grown on impossibly steep rocky slopes and at high-altitude with a mix of various size stones and underpinned by glacial deposits (moraines) and limestone soils, the vineyards here have been celebrated since pre Roman times with Caloz’s Les Bernunes being set in unique micro-climate and was, as Rosenthal notes, the first vineyard cited in the ancient historical records of the Valais region and is a special Cru located on the high slopes sitting between the villages of Sierre and Salquenen, planted to the Savagnin (Jura) white grape, known locally as Heida-Paien, and the Cornalin, in this wine. Once thought to be from the Valle d’Aoste in the Italian Alps, the rare Cornalin grape, grown mainly here in the high elevation Swiss region of Valais, is also known as Humagne Rouge and or Petit Rouge, and which it turns out is the offspring of ancient local varietal of Rouge du Pays, a peasant grape that was believed to have mystical healing powers. Well deserved, I learned that in 2019 the Cave Caloz winery was named Vigneron BioSuisse de l’année (Organic/Natural Swiss Winemaker of the Year) which highlights the commitment of this estate and a noteworthy achievement for years of passion and hard work.
The Caloz family “Les Bernunes” vineyard and its warm exposure allows the Cornalin rouge grapes to fully ripen, and their version produces a lovely perfumed example and this purple and deep garnet hued wine has the structure and elegance of a fine Bordeaux with a medium full body and a refined tannic or old world rustic charm. This brilliant vintage shows delicate floral intensity on the nose along with forest berries and exotic spices before engaging the palate with black cherry, loganberry, garden strawberry and tart huckleberry fruits along with mineral tones, dried violets, dusty cinnamon, sandalwood and cedary spices. This wine, which comes from all organic grapes that are all hand tended, saw a spontaneous native yeast fermentation in small stainless steel vats and was cold soaked all de-stemmed for a few days, then got gentle pump-overs during the maceration and primary fermentation before tank aging, as well as some large Demi-Muid (French oak casks) elevage. In recent years the Cave Caloz estate has gone through full biodynamic certification and practices holistic treatments throughout their vineyard sites. Caloz works as natural as possible in the cellar, also uses very low doses of sulfites with the reds only seeing any SO2 after finishing malo-lactic fermentation and the reds are all bottled unfined and unfiltered, both of which are to promote freshness and purity, which this Cornalin beautifully displays, with this 2016 just starting to mature into its best window with a glimpse of secondary elements and a regal silkiness of mouth feel. These Caloz offerings all treats to behold, sadly super hard to find and not cheap, because of the strength of the Swiss Franc, they are worth your time and money to track down, in particular their Fendant (Chasselas) La Mourzière, Heida-Paien (Savagnin) Les Bernunes, the Pinot Noir and this very pretty Cornalin. This was one of the most pleasing wines of the year so far, from start to finish it never put a foot wrong and it really provided everything that was needed, bravo and merci Sandrine!
($53 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive