Desperately Seeking Chasselas: Berkeley, California (Part 1)

Chasselas 2014, Vin de France, Pierre Gonon, Mauves

It’s always fun to find chasselas on a wine list outside of Switzerland but it’s not often that you do and then chances are it’s not even Swiss. Last night at Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, California a little digging around turned up this rare gem from the Gonon brothers of Mauves best known for their sterling syrahs from the northern Rhône appellation of St. Joseph.

chez
Chez Panisse: photo courtesy of Berkeleyside

This humbly labeled Vin de France is made from not so humble 100 year-old, organically-farmed chasselas vines deeply rooted in the granite slopes of the rive droite. Hand harvested whole clusters are gently pressed before a 12 hour settlement and subsequent racking into wooden fermentation vessels. Native yeasts are used exclusively. Aging in barriques and demi-muids for 10 to 12 months follows. Sound like naturally made wine to you? Me too.

As we all know chasselas is native to the Lac Léman basin and to the canton of Vaud in particular but it isn’t unusual to find examples in the Rhône Valley, Bourgogne, the Loire Valley or Alsace—usually blended away, innocently served as house wine or, when labelled as a mono-variety, sold only locally or at the winery where it is made.

The Wine: This one is a mash-up of seemingly incongruous aromatic cues: lime, salted buerre noisette, linden blossom and bruised apple. There is also an intriguing, very slight note of oxidation—a sous voile rumor so to speak—that adds to the mineral tendencies of the variety. Flavors are pronounced with baked apple at the core and hazelnut, green tea and butter at the edges. A malo-lactic fermentation does nothing to threaten a healthy balance of juicy acidity and complex, savory flavors. This is a great local interpretation of the grape that rivals the best from Switzerland. I wonder how it would do at the Mondial du Chasselas? Wines like this should be sought out for inclusion. After all we want the best examples to inspire others who work with chasselas. Great chasselas is good for everyone.

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