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.
Swiss Wine - Small and Perfectly Formed
Wine has been grown in Switzerland for 2,000 years. Yet very little is known about these wines outside of Switzerland. That is because the Swiss drink most of it, so Swiss wine is hard to find.
Switzerland is a fabulous winemaking country and one of the most wine crazy countries. In Switzerland wine is so embedded in life and land that almost everyone either is a winemaker or knows one (usually many). The Swiss also have very high expectations of quality, sustainability and ecology, which means the wines are not just excellent, they are also clean and green. The vineyard landscapes are stunning, with unique terroirs and an exhuberance of native and internation varieties. This is a wine lover's dreamland.
Being Swiss, I am able to source wines that are very hard to get - sometimes only because my parents already bought them! I have chosen some of the best representatives of Switzerland's wine scene - classic family wineries, top cooperatives and cult winemakers.
Nearly every canton (county) produces wine but the main areas are along the lakes and major rivers. In Western Switzerland along Lake Geneva, Lake Neuchâtell and the Rhône. In Eastern Switzerland along the Rhine and Lake Zürich. In Southern Switzerland in the lake valleys of Italian speaking Ticino. Start your journey below:
"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.