We have superb examples of Cabernet Sauvignon from Switzerland, Austria, Italy and some incredible top-end wines from Israel.
Chasselas is the typical white wine in Switzerland. If you've been for drinks on a terrace on lake Geneva, in Zurich or in a ski resort, chances are you were offered Chasselas.
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The classic profile of Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be full-bodied wines with high tannins and noticeable acidity that contributes to the wine's aging potential. In cooler climates, Cabernet Sauvignon tends to produce wines with blackcurrant notes that can be accompanied by green bell pepper notes, mint and cedar which will all become more pronounced as the wine ages.
Because of the high tannins and quite high acidity inherent with such a small sized grape, Cabernet Sauvignons usually require some time to reach its full drinking potential. Luckily, these same problems mean that these wines can last and mature for a very long time.
Cabernet Sauvignon is of course, the principal grape in all the great Bordeaux and Graves blends and it is no coincidence that many countries attempt to emulate the same blends and to blend more indigenous grapes with this one to produce local variety ‘Bordeaux’.
Cabernet Sauvignon originates in south west France. Other claims have tried to place it as coming from Greece or Spain but these have been disproved.
The parentage of Cabernet Sauvignon was discovered as recently as 1996 during the creation of a DNA database containing the profiles of the most important grape varieties. It turns out, to much surprise, that it is a natural cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Yes, in spite of the rather large hint in the name, scientists did not want to believe it was. But for once, the received knowledge was right.
"Fendant" is the name used now in the Valais for Chasselas-based wines. It is derived from the French verb "fendre", meaning "to split", which is exactly what the golden Chasselas grape does if squeezed between thumb and forefinger, rather than becoming squashed.
A typical Fendant is fresh and fruity, with a refreshing prickle. It will normally be quite dry, with delicate fruit and racy mineral flavours, often with hints of smoke and gunflint on the nose and an exquisite bitterness on the finish.
The Chasselas grape used for Fendant is highly expressive of terroir and there are some quite notable differences between wines grown in different parts of the Valais. Wines from around Sion are fresh and rich, those from Ardon and Vétroz stimulatingly dry while those from Martigny have a fragrant bouquet. Perhaps the best come from the areas around Sierre, Chamoson and Saillon, which combine fruit and an exquisite bitterness on the finish. Good examples age well, and after 5 years or so will lose their youthful character and can develop complex nutty and honeyed flavours.
Ideally, drink a bottle of Fendant on the day you open it (not much of a hardship!). It will keep in the fridge for a day or two once opened, but will lose the slight C02 prickle, an integral part of the character of the wine.
Although the Chasselas’ history is a controversial subject, it is supposed to be one of the most ancient grape varieties cultivated by man. Theories place its origins in the Middle East, in Egypt and in France. However, with DNA testing being able to identify the lack of Chasselas in certain areas, it is generally accepted that it comes from Switzerland by the shores of Lake Geneva. Today, the Chasselas is the most widespread vine in Switzerland. Its basically neutral character allows its wines to express fully the differences in soil compositions and the diversity of climatic conditions. From there comes the enormous variety of Chasselas wines found in the French-speaking area of Switzerland, which constitutes its principal ground.