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Chasselas - Syrah
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.
Chasselas makes low acidity creamy yet interesting wines. This low acidity makes it very easy to drink and it also is a white wine that "red wine only" drinkers can love.
A highly flexible wine, Chasselas works well both as an apéritif and with food - a wine for all circumstances.
A rather neutral wine, the Chasselas grape is highly expressive of terroir. The Chasselas from Geneva tend to be fruitier, those from Neuchatel fresher (try "Goutte d'Or"). La Cote is the "goldilocks" classic Chasselas, Lavaux produces bigger and more mineral Chasselas and in Valais Fendant, fruity comes back but with a flintiness and that typical prickle.
In most cantons people simply use the name of the town the wine is from - names like "Féchy", "Dézaley", "Yvorne" and "Mont sur Rolle", and people automatically know it is Chasselas and what to expect. In Valais, they will always call it Fendant
Our most popular Chasselas are the Mont sur Rolle from Maison Blanche, the classic Aigle les Murailles and our Fendant.
"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.
Another surprisingly interesting area for Syrah has turned out to be south-eastern Austria - in the hand of people like Netzl, Weninger and Gunter Triebaumer. But we haven't been able to secure some in recent years, as they sell it all to Vienna and Berlin.
Syrah is far from the easiest grape to cultivate. It has quite a high susceptibility to botrytis and mites and to an unknown disease which targets Syrah specifically ("I would too!" - Joelle). It also has a very short harvesting time when at full ripeness as it has small berries which tend to shrivel soon after that point. The slower ripening long season of the Swiss Valais is a boon when dealing with Syrah, giving a lot more ease at harvest time.
Syrah should not be confused with Petite Sirah, a synonym for Durif, a cross of Syrah with Peloursin dating from 1880. (We have one from Israel if you are curious)
Syrah produces wines with a wide range of flavour notes, depending on the climate and soils where it is grown, as well as other viticultural practices. Aroma characters can range from violets to berries (usually dark as opposed to red), chocolate, espresso and black pepper. No one aroma can be called "typical". With time in the bottle these "primary" notes are moderated and then supplemented with earthy or savoury "tertiary" notes such as leather and truffle.
There are a number of legends associated with the origins of Syrah, pretty much all of which have been disproven by the arrival of DNA testing. Despite this, they add a touch of romance to the grape. It was suggested that the grape came from the town of Shiraz in Persia (Iran), hence the use of that name in some countries. These legends differ according to whoever is telling the story but suggest the grape arrived in the Rhône in a few different ways - through traders bringing it to Marseilles (no evidence exists of any Syrah having been planted in that area), through a crusader bringing it back from the war (unlikely that he would have travelled as far as Persia from the Holy Land), brought to France by a Persian hermit, or brought to Gaul by Probus, the Roman Emperor.
In truth, it was probably born in the Rhone pre-Alps. Syrah is the natural child of Mondeuse Blanche, from Savoie and Dureza, an old and rare grape originating from Ardèche. It is a great-grandchild of Pinot and a grandchild of Mondeuse Noire as well as being a half-sibling of Viognier.