Chasselas is one of the world’s oldest grapes. It was thought to have originated in ancient Egypt. Further DNA analyses indicate that it is an indigenous variety from the Swiss canton of Vaud. The Chasselas grape variety is known as Fendant in Valais, as Dorin in Vaud, and as Perlan in other parts of the Savoie winegrowing region. In Germany, and especially in Baden in the south, this variety is also known as Weisser Gutedel, while in Austria it goes under the name of Moster or Wälscher.
Light, lively and fruit-driven: the character of a Chasselas wine
White wines made from the Chasselas grape are silky, fruit-driven, spritzy and mild. Overall the grape's flavour is quite restrained, which allows different soils, climate and particular terroirs to be fully expressed. Chasselas wines are therefore multifaceted.
Many Chasselas are vinified as light and refreshing table wines but it is perfectly possible to produce premium wines with Chasselas grapes. Dry styles where malolactic fermentation takes the edge off acidity generally achieve a very high quality.
Depending on the ripeness of the grapes and how long they are aged, Chasselas wines are either fruity or moderately sweet and also develop a flowery bouquet. Chasselas wines are usually drunk young. Owing to its low acidity, this type of wine does not keep as well as other varieties. Good vintages can be aged for up to ten years, however. Long ageing brings nutty aromas to the fore. It also has a beneficial effect on the wine’s texture, making it both silky and full-bodied.
A Chasselas wine is an excellent match for light dishes. Its mild acidity makes it ideal for pairing with fish. It is also superb as an aperitif wine.
Cultivation of the Chasselas grape variety
To extract the best quality from this vine, it should produce neither too many nor too few grapes. This fact was ignored in the 1980s, as the prevailing attitude at the time was the bigger the crop, the better. This resulted in lots of bland wines lacking any distinctive character. However, today’s generation of winemakers has succeeded in making true quality wines from Chasselas again – both by restricting yields in the vineyards and by changing vinification techniques.
Notable growing regions for Chasselas grapes
The Chasselas grape variety does not thrive well enough on all soils to reach the desired quality. Shallow and dry soils are particularly challenging for it. It is also rather susceptible to various vine diseases. Chasselas is consequently cultivated in only a few places in the world. Major regions include Switzerland, Germany and France. Swiss Chasselas wines in particular have become highly renowned and are very important for the country’s wine industry.
Chasselas – the Swiss ambassador
Nowhere else does the laid-back Chasselas with its restrained power produce such subtle and complex wines as in Switzerland. This traditional grape variety – also known as Chablais or Fendant – is grown over a total of 3,885 hectares in Switzerland. Incidentally, Chasselas goes under the name of Fendant only in Valais. The name comes from the fact that the skin and flesh of the grape separate (se fendre) when pressed between the fingers.It is grown mainly in the canton of Vaud and in several French-speaking parts of Switzerland. Switzerland’s climate yields a wide range of fruity wines with diverse aromas. Some are light and refreshing while others are more muscular.Chasselas lovers swear by expressions of this wine from canton Vaud, which is subdivided into the regions Lavaux, Chablais and La Côte. This is where winemakers pay most attention to the Chasselas grape variety. The steep slopes above Lake Geneva are not only geographically impressive, they also produce the best Chasselas wines. The Dézaley winegrowing region, with a tradition that can be traced back to Cistercian monks, is ranked number one in the world for Chasselas. The grapevines here thrive on granite soils to produce full-bodied quality wines. Malolactic fermentation is also beneficial as it lends the wines a mild acidity. The names “Médinett”, “Côte des Abbayes” and “Chemin de Fer” stand for wines of outstanding quality.In Valais, thanks to Chasselas clones that yield fruit flesh with a particularly firm consistency, winemakers produce well-structured Fendants with deep aromas. In Neuchâtel in western Switzerland, too, the Chasselas grape is a dominant presence in the making of white wines. Particular mention should be made here of the spritzy, mouth-filling “Neuchâtel blanc”.
German Chasselas wines
Chasselas wine gained importance in Germany probably from around 1780, with active assistance from Switzerland. Margrave Karl Friedrich von Baden cultivated rootstock he had obtained from Lake Geneva.Today the main region where this variety is grown in Germany is in Markgräflerland on the border with France and Switzerland, where the resulting wine is known as Gutedel. Around 40% of some 3,000 hectares are planted with Chasselas vines. The mild climate allows the vinification of very light and refreshing whites that are much more than just a regional speciality. The second-most important German region for growing Chasselas grapes is Saale-Unstrut where the limestone soils also favour the production of good Chasselas wines.
Chasselas from France
Around 2,500 hectares are given over to Chasselas grapes in France. Champagne produces its own varieties “Chasselas doré” and “Raisin de Champagne”. The Savoie region epitomizes French Chasselas production. The terroirs of Seyssel and Crépy produce light and fruity wines, some with a light effervescence.