Chasselas is the typical white wine in Switzerland. If you've been skiing in the Valais you've probably tried it already, under its Valais name of "Fendant". If you've been for drinks on a terrace on lake Geneva, or even an apéritif in Zurich, chances are you were offered Chasselas.
Marie-Thérèse Chappaz is not only the most famous woman winegrower in Switzerland she is also a very endearing, simple and genuine woman. Now a star in her own country and the must have swiss winemaker in France but practically unknown elsewhere.
Marie-Thérèse grows 14 hectares of vineyard at an altitude of between 400 and 800 metres, which are divided and spread over several villages - Fully and also Martigny, Charrat, Leytron, Saillon and Chamoson.
The majority of vineyards are cultivated in terraces supported by hand-built dry stone walls according to the centuries old tradition in the Valais. You can wander freely through the spectacular landscapes by taking the beaten pathways that join the different villages.
Since 1999 Marie-Thérèse Chappaz has opted for biodynamic agriculture. To say she was misunderstood at first is putting it mildly. But in between the wines have spoken, as have the wineyards, and those who looked down on the "little woman, what could she know" have learned otherwise.
“For me producing wines is not about making the best drink possible, by any means possible. Wine is something magical when it tells the story of a land, a terrain, a climate, a grape variety, in other words when it has an identity!”
I've been buying them for myself for years but not able to snatch enough quantity for Alpine Wines. But now, we have!
"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.