A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Chasselas - Switzerland

Chasselas is a grape with many names.  The Vitis International Variety Catalog lists 216 different names for this grape.  Those who are interested can feel free to peruse the list over on the VIVC database.  Generally, when a grape has that many names, it means that it's grown in a lot of different places, which is true: there are significant plantings in Germany and Austria and lesser plantings in France, Eastern Europe, northern Italy, Australia and Chile (what is grown in California as Golden Chasselas is probably really Palomino). It is a star grape, though, in only one place: Switzerland.

When one stops and reflects on the great, traditional wine regions of the world, Switzerland is not likely to cross many people's minds.  Viticulture is not a new phenomenon here, though.  Grape growing has a history in Switzerland going back at least to Roman times, though it is possible that its roots go back another thousand years.  Geographically, Switzerland is perhaps most associated with the high mountains of the Swiss Alps, but the Alps only constitute about 60% of the total land area of the country.  There is a large plateau just north of the Alps where most of the population of the country is located and which provides nearly all of the arable land for the country.  There are some grapes grown in some of the more mountainous areas and some grown in the northeastern part of the country, but the most important regions are located in the western part of the country around Lake Geneva near the French border. 

Somewhat surprisingly, given the mountainous terrain and northerly latitude, red wine production accounts for almost 60% of Swiss output with Pinot Noir (30% of vineyard acreage) and Gamay (10% of vineyard acreage) leading the way.  The other 40% is white wine and the overwhelming majority of white wine is produced from the Chasselas grape.  Chasselas covers about 27% of the vineyard area of Switzerland with the next closest white varietal being Müller-Thurgau at 3.3%.  For while, it was thought that Chasselas originated in Turkey or possibly Egypt and was the oldest known grape variety in the world, which may account for the overwhelming number of names it has.   More recent research, though, seems to indicate that the grape is native to Switzerland.  The Swiss make the most wine from Chasselas, but other countries in eastern Europe actually have more land devoted to cultivating the grape, but it is primarily grown as a table grape in those areas.

I was able to pick up a bottle of 2009 Dubaril Chasselas Vin de Pays from my friends at Bin Ends for about $13.  There is an appellation system in Switzerland that is very similar to the French AOC system.  Because this wine is labeled Vin de Pays, I don't have any more specific geographical reference for where it was produced than the name of the country itself.  I will say, though, that I've had Chasselas at various tastings from the Valais and Vaud regions of Switzerland, which are perhaps the best known wine producing regions in that country and that my impressions of the grape have been similar every time I have tried it.

In the glass, the wine was a pale, silvery straw color.  The nose was moderately open, but very one dimensional smelling of pears and little else.  On the palate, the wine was medium bodied with low acidity.  I guess the diplomatic thing to say is that Swiss neutrality does not stop with their politics.  The wine has a chalky kind of minerality to it with a little bit of apple peel and ripe pear fruit, but overall, there's just not much there.  Every time I taste a Chasselas, I get this overwhelming chalky taste that is a bit off-putting for me.  Plus, the wines are generally low in both acid and fruit so there's not much else in the wine to off-set that chalky sensation.  I keep waiting for a Chasselas-based wine to really grab me, but it just hasn't happened yet.  I'm not so chauvinistic about it that I'll write the whole grape and region off, but if anyone has any recommendations on the Chasselas front, please let me know as I'd love to have my mind changed about it.  I've heard that these are great fondue wines, and I guess that's as good a use as any for them.

1 comment:

Patricia said...

Si bien es cierto que esta uva "neutral" adquiere sus características gracias a la tierra, algunos expertos (he escuchado por ahí) dicen que es en Suiza, en Dézaley, Epesses y Fendant de Valais donde sus vinos adquieren muy buenas cualidades, casi sorprendentes.

No los he probado, pero sí es verdad, que si bien en el resto de Europa(Alsacia, Alemania y Loira)se presenta en los vinos de mesa, en Suiza se puede esperar más de ella.

Las condiciones geológicas y climáticas del pequeño país resultan propicias para elaborar mejores vinos que en el resto del mundo.

Ah! Por cierto, muy buena descripción de cata :)