Yesterday I thought it interesting to find a familiar grape in an unexpected but familiar place, Sauvignon Blanc in Burgundy. Today it’s an unfamiliar grape which is completely at home in an unfamiliar place. It’s Swiss, it’s Chasselas, it’s Domaine la Colombe Petit Clos 2006.
First off, yes they make wine in Switzerland, to the tune of a million HL per year, and they have 15,000 HA under vine. That puts them at roughly half of Austrian production, or a tenth of Australian production. However, one could be forgiven for not having tried many Swiss wines, as Switzerland is not a huge exporter. That is, they drink on the order of 98% of what they produce, and the bulk of the few exports go to Germany. Also, Swiss wine is expensive. There’s not a ton of land on which you can grow grapes, and land in Switzerland is not cheap, nor is labour. So if you want to taste Swiss wine, you generally need to go to Switzerland, and you need to bring some serious cash. That said, this is the second time I’ve tried this wine in Australia, so some does get out, and while it wasn’t cheap, it didn’t completely break the bank.
Switzerland in general is a continental climate, and though its latitude is well suited to vines, the altitude is a serious consideration. Most wine is produced in the western part of the country, and vineyards can be at heights of a kilometer. Vines tend to be planted on southern-facing slopes, and ripening is typically not a problem, though chaptalization is permitted, as is irrigation.
The majority of wine produced within Switzerland is either Pinot Noir or Chasselas, with the former having just edged the latter out of the top spot over the past few years. Gamay, Merlot and Müller-Thurgau round out the top five varietals planted. Dôle is a Swiss wine made from a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay, and there are a few less commonly grown varietals that are largely unique to Switzerland, such as Gamaret, Garanoir, Petit Arvine, Humagne Rouge, Cornalin, and Diolinoir.
Chasselas is certainly worth a bit more detail. At one point not so long ago, it comprised the bulk of overall plantings in Switzerland, before being surpassed by Pinot Noir. It is a white grape, also known as Fendant in the Valais canton and Perlan in Mandement. It’s a vigorous vine, and the medium sized, thin-skinned berries ripen early. The fruit itself is sought-after as table grapes in many places
One of the most interesting things about Chasselas though is how it is perceived as a wine grape in different parts of the world. It is very widely planted geographically, both throughout Europe, North Africa and throughout the New World, though not in any great concentration outside of Switzerland. However, nowhere is it so highly regarded. It’s found in the Loire where it is used in relatively low quality wine. It is on its way our of Alsace where it is unloved for a lack of acidity. However, it is seen as having some value in Savoie, likely due to its proximity to Switzerland, where it lives up to its potential.
Domaine le Colombe is a producer based in Féchy, a village in the hills of the Côte Vaudoise north of Lake Geneva. Founded as a vineyard by Jules Paccot, the winery and brand was established by his son Roger Paccot, and is now in turn run by his son, Raymond whose name graces this bottle. They produce three ranges of wines – a set of varietals they call Wines of Expression, a set of reserve wines, and a set of wines from select vineyards either as varietal Chasselas or blends. This wine is of the last category, coming off the Le Petit Clos, Mont-Sur-Rolle AOC vineyard, located at 500 meters altitude with old vines on clay soil.
In the glass, this wine was medium minus lemon green. On the nose there was green apple, but some bruised apple as well, and a developing character of medium minus intensity. The palate was dry, with medium acidity, medium plus body, medium alcohol, medium minus length, medium flavour intensity. I tasted red apple, white pepper, sweet spice, and pear drop, with a bacon finish, and who doesn’t like bacon? The texture was slightly oily. If I had been served this blind, I most likely would have guessed Pinot Gris, or possibly Chenin Blanc.
This is a good quality wine – obviously very well made and balanced, with a nice texture. It’s a real shame Swiss wines are so thin on the ground here, though I will make a point of trying them any time they appear.