What does Chasselas taste like?
What does Chasselas taste like? It’s a harder question than it may at first appear. Chasselas is Switzerland’s most important white wine variety and makes up over a quarter of the country’s vineyards.
However, this grape variety is notorious for having a lack of character and therefore being hard to describe. On my visit to Switzerland recently I asked several winemakers to describe the character of Chasselas wine; here’s what they said:
Julien Dutruy et Les Frères Dutruy “We can make so many different wines with Chasselas. The variety is quite neutral; it is not very acidic, not too intense, so we can really feel the region when we blind taste Chasselas; we can feel the different spots. That’s what I like in Chasselas; not a technological Chasselas but one that is quite subtle and fresh, and easy to drink. A good Chasselas for me is a very drinkable Chasselas.” – Les Frères Dutruy make Chasselas wine in Founex, near Geneva.
Catherine Cruchon at Domaine Henri Cruchon “Chasselas is very unique – it has low acidity, low alcohol and low aromatics but it has this unique freshness and elegance, and it is very delicate. It doesn’t make you tired when you drink it – you are never aggressed by the acidity or alcohol. And because the variety doesn’t have its own strong personality it really does take its personality from the soil where it grows. You really taste where it comes from.” – Henri Cruchon makes Chasselas wines from Echichens
Christian Vessaz at Cru de L’Hopital “Traditionally Chasselas is always a little bit sparkling and very light: light in aromas and light in the mouth. It’s not easy to make a very light wine, but it is a wine that has something to say. With our terroir, we can make that wine. I search for the traditional Chasselas to have this slight sparkle. We don’t find that in Burgundy, sure, but for people here, it is important to have that in our wine.” – Cru de L’Hopital makes Chasselas wines in Vully.
Gilles Besse at Domaine Jean-René Germanier “Chasselas has no particular fruit aromas, like Sauvignon or Viognier do; it is very neutral. But it expresses the minerality of the soils where it comes from, and the microclimate. We have subtle wines – we don’t like to make fruit bombs, we like to make elegant and fine wines.” – Jean-René Germanier makes Chasselas wines in Vétroz in the Valais.
Benjamin Massy at Luc Massy Vins “Chasselas was really born here and it is perfection here. It’s a delicate white wine that isn’t as fruity or expressive as others; you have to take your time to get to comprehend it. It’s delicate, and it’s a wine you can drink a lot of.” Luc Massy Vins makes Chasselas wines in Lavaux.
My own thoughts on Chasselas wine Before arriving in Switzerland I had tasted few Chasselas wines – some Swiss ones and one in Canada. It isn’t a grape that is easy to find. It also is a wine that can be particularly forgetful if you’re not paying attention. It is so easy to drink that it can pass your lips by like a glass of water. It’s no wonder that the Swiss normally drink this alone.
Visiting the different wine regions and tasting a few dozen Chasselas wines in Switzerland did change my perspective. I noticed differences, nuances, in the wines that clearly were reflecting the different vineyards rather than the grape. There’s no big aromas or telltale scents of different fruits. Instead it has that fresh smell and mineral note you’ll find in good water, with ever so slight floral and herbal notes. But ultimately it is delicate in the nose and mouth.
Winemaking does, of course, have a part to play – whether you age on the lees, do malolactic fermentation, if you leave it with some CO2 or not – but the winemaking impact felt quite minimal from tasting. The only winemaking that really left its mark were those wines that lost the subtlety and delicacy and just became rather boring, or perhaps that was down to the site?
Either way, a good Chasselas can be quite thrilling in its simplicity and elegance. I took a couple of bottles home with me just to check it wasn’t the Alpine air going to my head. And true to my experience in Switzerland, I found them fascinating for their lightness. Even my mum – who is a diehard New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc fan – enjoyed a glass, after I had explained that it was ok to smell nothing.