Chardonnay or Chasselas?
You and a friend go out to dinner. You’re seated and you tell your waiter that you’d both like to start with a glass of white wine. And, of course, he asks “Chardonnay or Chasselas?” The probability that this question is posed exactly this way is around 0%. Actually, at best 2%, since that’s the percentage of Switzerland’s yearly wine production which is exported worldwide. Small wine industry you think, but relative to the size of the country it’s quite large: 37,000 acres under vine. A good number of grape varietals – pinot noir, merlot, pinot gris, gamay, Muller – Thurgau, sylvaner, syrah and many more - are grown mostly in the Southwestern part of the country near Lake Geneva. They drink a lot of wine in Switzerland.
Pinot noir is the most widely planted varietal in Switzerland, but I’d like to focus on the #2 varietal and one that’s nearly exclusive to and universally associated with Switzerland – our Chasselas. What does it taste like? Most agree it’s very restrained – low alcohol, low acidity and low aromatics, but it has a freshness and elegance. It allows the terroir, the vineyard where it’s grown, to speak loud and clear. Often it’s grown on rocky, precipitous hillside vineyards, so there’s a distinct minerality. Another unique quality of Chasselas is that it has a pétillance, a slight sparkle. It is not in any way sparkling wine, just has a light natural sparkle. Sound good? And you can drink lots of it – alcohol is seldom more than 12% ABV.
Now, I’ll recommend a few of my favorite Swiss Chasselas wines. They won’t be easy to find, but so worth the effort, and Wine Searcher, www.wine-searcher.com will help.
- Gilliard Fendant Les Murettes from the Valais $30 bottle
Aromas of lemon zest, honeysuckle and lemon flan lead to flavors of apple,
pear and vanilla custard. It is creamy in feel, with a pleasing
level of minerality and a crisp finish. – 90 Rating, The Wine Enthusiast
- Chateau D’Auvernier Neuchatel Blanc, Neuchatel $25 bottle
Vineyard overlooks beautiful Lake Neuchatel. Chateau D’Auvernier is a 400 year old family winery.
This wine with its lime aroma on fine lees at a low temperature enables us to preserve its slightly sparkling character on the tongue. Immensely popular and suitable for all occasions, this wine is the pinnacle of our range.
Serve with: Aperitif, pâtés, freshwater fish, cheese.
- Testuz Dezaley L’Arbalette, Vaud. $45 bottle
Grown on steep hill vineyards overlooking Lake Geneva.
Intense, elegant, fruity and floral notes, long-lasting finale with character.
Concentrated and complex, with hints of exotic fruits.
One of Switzerland’s finest white wines
- Badoux Aigle les Murailles, Aigle AOC, Vaud $30
A silky texture encloses the richness of the fruit, dense and gentle on the palate. It has good minerality and flavors of vanilla, peach and apricot. Remarkable for its harmony, roundness and intensity, it combines grace, elegance and softness. This Swiss Chasselas is straw colored with reflections of green at the rim. My favorite Swiss Chasselas.
Next time tell the waiter you’ll have the Chasselas! Cheers!