Whatever you call it—the Super Bowl of chasselas, the World Cup of fendant or the NBA Finals of gutedel—make no mistake, this is the Grand Daddy of them all: the Mondial du Chasselas. Sporting analogies are particularly apropos in this, the year of the upset.
Never one to flinch at competition, I answered the call as a panelist for the Prix de la Presse, an intimate, press-sponsored blind tasting of the top sixteen survivors—as chosen by the full-field committee—from a array of 646 contenders. Our mandate: to second-guess the committee’s results. And in a mini-upset of sorts (like a four-seed upsetting a one-seed) our unanimous winner placed fourth in the overall competition.
The other upset was of the epic kind: A chasselas from Germany’s Baden region finished fifth in the Vieux Millésimes category historically dominated by the Swiss. I went even further and awarded it a third place finish in my unofficial re-ranking. Never mind that Baden is second only to Vaud worldwide in acreage devoted to chasselas—a fact akin to finding a planet similar to earth somewhere else in the galaxy—it’s just that its wines are invisible here.
In another curious turn, though falling short of actual upset, my top four wines in the main competition reversed the order of the committee’s top four. After that, I found a huge gap between them and the rest of the field.
The wines below are listed in the order of ranking by the judges with their cumulative numerical score, using the 100 point system, in parentheses. The figures in red indicate my ranking 1-16. The press tasting only determined a winner and did not rank the wines or assign numerical scores.
The Vieux Millésimes category follows the same protocol. Coincidentally, I also found the top four in my ranking several notches above the rest of the field.
I guess that’s why they play the game.
(4)(1/93.9) Féchy, Réserve des Sociétaires Féchy 2016, Sociéte des Caves de Producers Mont-Féchy, La Côte: Pale straw in color. Very tight herb and citrus nose. Palate begins fresh and vigorous with lemon and lime highlights. Expansive palate with a nice citrus core and a firm streak of minerality to finish. Very good.
(3)(2/93.7) Calamin, Le Béguine 2016, J.&M. Dizerens, Calamin: Pale straw in color. Fresh with some buttery notes. Herbs and minerals as well. Nice volume on the palate that expands with lemon and nectarine flavors. Persistent minerality. Finishing acidity is a bit too apparent and detracts ever so slightly. Time may prove a friend.
(2)(3/92.7) Yvorne 2015, Château Maison Blanche, Chablais: Straw colored. Fresh cream aroma with some candied lemon peel. Surprisingly rich and sweet with lots of extract, minerals and herbs. Ghee-like flavors that are saturated and pure. Noticeable 2015 warmth and texture. A fully integrated wine that needs a bit of time to really bloom.
(1)(4/92.3) Aigle 2016, Domaine des Hospices Cantonaux, Chablais: Pale straw in color. Lots of fresh chopped herbs and dairy aromas. Very fresh with lifted flavors of lemon peel and salted butter. Expansive and mouthwatering. Tingling at all its edges with a final lemon-lime kick. This was my number one wine in all three flights in which it appeared. Textbook. Very nice showing from an under-the-radar producer owned by the Canton Vaud.
(6)(5/92.3) Dézaley-Marsens, de la Tour 2015, Les Frères Dubois, Dézaley-Marsens: Straw colored. Slightly advanced butterscotch notes with green herbs. Lemon vodka-like flavors with more butterscotch, chervil and minerals. Its bulky frame reflects the vintage and perhaps an awkward moment in its development. This is a consistently good producer so I’m betting on the come.
(5)(6/92.3) Morges, Tradition 2016, Cave de la Côte, La Côte: Pale straw in color. Very pretty floral, herbal and spice notes. More flowers on entry before leaning into witch hazel and citrus fruit. Not as crisp and bracing as past vintages. Finishes a bit sweet and heavy.
(16)(7/92.1) Mont-sur-Rolle, La Grande Vigne 2016, La Grande Vigne, La Côte: Straw colored. Smelling a bit tired and slightly advanced in age. Palate starts sweet and finishes heavy. Lacks freshness and youthful appeal. Not for me.
(12)(8/91.4) Aigle, La Baudelière 2016, C.&S. Delarze, Chablais: Pale straw in color. A simple recipe of herbs and lemon on the nose. More lemon with some floral notes on the palate. The overall impression is one of delicacy and understatement. Nothing bad just a little lost in the shuffle. Low energy and a bit washed-out.
(13)(9/91.4) Fendant, Tradition 2015, Domaine des Muses, Valais: Straw gold in color. Lemon confit and candied peel nose. Very ripe and sweet verging on melon or nectarine. The vintage is expressed in its ponderous structure which is a bit amorphous and loose-knit. Chasselas without zing is a bit like this.
(11)(10/91.4) Yvorne 2016, Château Maison Blanche, Chablais: Pale straw in color. Neutral, clean, lemon vodka nose. A bit of witch hazel too. Palate is clean and bright but its neutrality is a bit disconcerting. Sufficient acidity it seems but also too sweet without any real flavor. A bit of a disappointment from this excellent producer.
(14)(11/91.3) Féchy 2016, Domaine du Saugey, La Côte: Straw in color. Somewhat feral and musky with a bit of reduction. A little tired smelling and perhaps slightly advanced. Sweaty, salty flavors detract from the fruit presentation. The overall impression is disjointed and unfocused.
(7)(12/91) Fendant 2016, Claudy Clavien, Valais: Straw in color with some vivid green highlights. Unusual grassy, sauvignon-like nose with a bit of grapefruit. Concentrated green herb and citrus flavors with cooling menthol notes. Serious depth. Large-framed and aggressively flavored. Unusual grassy and spicy finish with a bit of jalapeño. I like this.
(8)(13/91) Villeneuve, Passage du Romain 2016, Obrist, Chablais: Pale straw in color. Correct herbs, honey and lemon nose. Very fresh and crisp with green, herbaceous notes and a middle-weight palate. Good entry-level, middle-of-the-road chasselas that reminds me of a similar class of grüner veltliner.
(9)(14/90.9) Féchy, Crêt de Bayel, Cave du Consul, La Côte: Medium straw colored. Very delicate lemony fruit with simple green herbs. Palate is light-weight with flavors of lemon and chervil. A bit simple and finishes decidedly acidic. Clean and refreshing but not enough fat to balance the acids.
(15)(15/90.9) Yvorne, Le Petit Vignoble 2015, Badoux Vins, Chablais: Medium straw colored. Notably herbaceous and earthy on the nose. Palate is flat and without charisma. Not sure what this is doing in this group.
(10)(16/90.9) Chardonne, Cure d’Attalens 2015, Obrist, Lavaux: Straw colored. A mixologist’s Lemondrop dream. A bit candied and sugary. On the palate more lemon zest but overall a little ponderous and clumsy. Mid-palate herbs but an overall vodka-like dominance. I expect more from this usually excellent cuvée.
(1)(1/96.3) Dézaley, Chemin de Fer 1999, Luc Massy, Dézaley: Straw gold in color. Slightly maderized but very minerally with notes of roasted grain (wheat thins) and honey. Some baked exotic fruit flavors along with honey. Sweet and long with a slightly grainy finish. I like this very much.
(4)(2/93.6) Féchy 2010, Domaine du Martherey, La Côte: Straw gold in color. Very ripe, gooseberry and greengage tang. Sweet entry with still youthful lemon confit fruit and nicely balanced acids. Expansive in the mouth with lingering lemon perfume. Very good.
(10)(3/92.9) Fendant, Pierrafeu 1994, Provins Valais, Valais: Gold in color. Stewed raisins and roasted grain aroma. Palate is very advanced, very dry, and quite clipped. Flavors are somewhat evocative of neglected sherry
(2)(4/92.4) Yvorne, Clos du Rocher 1990, Obrist, Chablais: Gold in color. Reductive, minerally nose is both salty and savory. Very typical Chablais. Complex palate of savory herbs, sweet yellow fruit and flowers. Lively, lemon spritz too. Mineral notes to finish. Is this, year-in and year-out, Obrist’s best wine? Very consistent and an icon of the appellation.
(3)(5/92.4) Heitersheimer Maltesergarten, Chasslie 2003, Weingut Zotz, Markgräflerland, Baden (Germany): Medium gold in color. Somewhat yeasty, bread-like nose with butterscotch and candied violets. Mature white Graves weight and similar waxy texture. Mature barley sugar flavors with vanilla. Finishes slightly dry and a bit tired but overall a different and successful take on chasselas.
(5)(6/92.1) Mont-sur-Rolle 1995, Domaine de Autecour, La Côte: Gold in color. Some reduction but otherwise some grassy, hay-like aromas. A still fresh yellow fruit core with some herbs but finishes abruptly with aggressive acids. Hard to see more development at this stage; perhaps just preservation.
(6)(7/92.1) Dézaley 1998, Domaine Bovy, Dézaley: Straw gold in color. Neutral, unexpressive nose. Green herbs, butter and cheese flavors with a slight tannic bite (bitterness) to finish. Relatively decent shape but not a lot of future development ahead.
(8)(8/92) Dézaley 2007, Domaine Bovy, Dézaley: Gold in color. Roasted grain and butterscotch aromas. Tired flavors of over-steeped tea, lemon and grains. Rich but tired and losing steam. Drink up.
(9)(9/92) La Belle du Dézaley 2007, Raymond Chappuis, Dézaley: Gold in color. Interesting scents of golden raisins, linden blossoms and pollen. None of that is transmitted to the palate which is loose-knit, soft and prematurely aging. A mish-mash of dried up components.
(11)(10/91.1) Dézaley-Marsens, de la Tour—Vase N°4 2006, Les Frères Dubois, Dézaley-Marsens: Dark straw colored. Sauternes-like nose but dry with some oxidation. Entry is sweet with over- mature Sauternes flavors that are drying. Technically still alive but rather one-dimensional and not what I would hold up as a well-aged chasselas.
(7)(11/91.1) La Belle du Dézaley 2009 Raymond Chappuis, Dézaley: Gold in color. Concentrated cooked plums and fresh sawdust nose. Very sweet yellow fruit flavors with honey and background minerality. Almost too intense with a slivovitz-like finish. Seems distilled. A bit weird.