Monday, September 2, 2013

A grape called Humagne

This blog is not just about the hardcore 'natural' wine world, it's about the esoteric byways of wine drinking and you won't stray much further off the beaten track than this wine I was sent by Swiss specialists Nick Dobson.

Humagne Blanche 2009, Giroud Vins, Sion

According to their website Humagne Blanche is the oldest known white grape and originates in the Valais area of Switzerland, where it was first known, in the late 14th century as "Humani" or humany' according to Jancis Robinson et al's encyclopaedic Wine Grapes. Robinson's co-author ampelographer José Vouillamoz claims it's identical to two other wildly obscure (see note below in correction) grapes Miousat which you find in Jurançon and Monein in the Pyrenées Atlantiques. At one point it nearly became extinct but there's now about 30 ha of it in the Valais.

It was believed to be particularly rich in iron and used to be recommended as a tonic for pregnant women though Vouillamoz says this is a myth and most probably the herbs they added to it.

The flavour is certainly quite curious. Appley, though not cidery - cooked apple rather than fresh - richly honeyed, with a crisp, lemony finish.  It reminded me more of aged Vouvray than anything else though without the cabbagey notes that sometimes afflict it. It's even better a day after opening.

There wasn't much on the site about how the grapes were grown but the Girouds' own site reveals they follow biodynamic practices and are in the process of phasing out chemicals in the winery. They don't mention yeasts but the wine tasted pretty natural to us. The wine is aged for six months in large oak vats, is a modest 12.5% and is recommended with mousses, terrines, cold cuts and Alpine cheese*.

It's not cheap at £19.50 but why should it be if there's so little of it? A real curiosity.

Rating: AMBER (see my traffic lights system to the right)

*According to Nick Dobson the Giroud family are "enthusiastic supporters of other traditional skills and trades in the Valais, from cheesemaking up in the alps to the traditional "combat des reines" or 'cow fighting'. Though given that cows sometimes refuse to take part according to this Wikipedia report it sounds more like cow shoving.


  1. Dear Fiona
    Very glad to read about Swiss wines on your blog! Humagne Blanche (NB: not related to Humagne Rouge) is indeed a rare and very old variety, first mentioned in 1313 as 'humagny'. It is indeed identical to Miousat from the Pyrenées Atlantiques (NB: why did you mention 'two other wildly obscure grapes'? There's only Miousat, mainly found in Jurançon and Monein), which makes me suggest that it was introduced from south-western France to Valais by following the Rhone river (viticulture in general has often followed the fluvial routes).
    Nick Dobson has several other varietal wines made from obscure and old Valais grape varieties, I hope that you'll have the opportunity to try some of them.
    Very best regards
    José Vouillamoz

  2. Thank you for taking the trouble to comment, José. Maybe I leapt into print too swiftly (always the problem with blogging). Have struck through 'wildly obscure'! I look forward to trying other wines in Nick Dobson's range.