July 6th-Fendant (Chasselas)

A few weeks back, I had stopped into my local wine shop to pick up a few bottles and sat down at the bar for a glass. While talking with other guests, the shop owner was speaking to his father-in-law about a regular customer that stops in periodically and brings bottles of wine from Switzerland. A few nights prior, they had received a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from this person. I always find it interesting to try wines from unexpected places, and this was no different. When I was going through the list of grapes I needed to try, I mentioned Chasselas to the merchant. As luck would have it, they had a couple bottles of Fendant (as Chasselas is known in the Valais region of Switzerland). I added it to my collection of the unusual and brought it home! Switzerland happens to be about the same latitude as Burgundy in neighboring France. It lies a bit south of Alsace and Champagne. This means, depending on the altitude of the vines, Switzerland is capable of producing wine. Wine production has occurred in Switzerland at least as far back as Roman times. The major reason it is such an enigma to the US wine market, is because 99% of wine made is kept within the country. Until recent market changes, it wasn’t economically feasible to distribute wine within the European market, let alone internationally. Chasselas, or Fendant, is a white grape variety found in France, Portugal, Hungary, Germany, Romania, and is the most common grape in Switzerland. It is a fairly neutral grape that gains pronounced personality from the environment and soil in which it is grown. 

The bottle I have is from a winery named Cave Caloz located in the Valais region of Switzerland. This region is home to about one third of total wine production in the country. The vineyards are planted on slopes overlooking the river Rhȏne, with a majority being on the northern slopes. This provides them with the southern exposure needed to maximize sunlight to ensure ripening. Within Valais, there is the Coteaux de Sierre AOP. (Similar to France, the Swiss label wines with the designations of AOP and Grand Cru). This area is the largest AOP in Switzerland. Here resides the Caloz family that is in its third generation of producing wine. The vineyards are planted at an altitude of around 600-800m (between 2000-2600 feet), providing a significant cooling effect. Due to this cooling, it is essential to be as close to warming influences like the river Rhȏne as possible. Vineyards at this latitude also benefit from the extended hours of sunlight during the summer months. Cave Caloz has terraced vineyards due to the steep terrain. This requires hand harvesting of the grapes. In 2019, Cave Caloz was awarded the honor of Organic Swiss Winemaker of the Year, after having all their vineyards certified organic in 2017. 

The 2016 bottle of Fendant La Mourziere from the Coteaux de Sierre AOP was a light brassy straw color with splashes of green. The wine coated the glass but the legs were unremarkable. The aromas that rose from the glass included fresh green apples, lemon pith, white grapefruit, ripe pineapple, and a touch gardenia. This vibrant, dry wine had an invigorating level of acidity and moderate alcohol content. While this wine had the aforementioned notes on the palate, it also exhibited a marked stoney minerality from the rocky soils of the Alps that persisted on the extended finish. It also had supporting tastes of herbs such as fennel and thyme. This wine was surprisingly fresh and bright considering it was 6 years old. When thinking of pairings, this wine would be wonderful if paired with a swiss cheese fondue. Cheers to #199!


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