The beauty of the best-loved Chasselas

Let the tasting begin! Finding the best Vaud Chasselas, Terravin Laurier de Platine vintage 2011

LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – The new Terravin Laurier de Platine wine, vintage 2011, is the Clos de la Dame 2011 from Féchy by Raymond Metzener of the Domaine Chatelanat in Perroy. This best-loved Chasselas, a fine example of what this grape can give us, was named Thursday afternoon in Lausanne as the top Chasselas in canton Vaud, among some 900 wines, after a selection process that lasted several weeks. It culminated in a seven-stage elimination tasting session Thursday.

I’ve always wondered how this wine is selected every year, since Terravin, the organizers, make it clear this is not a wine competition, but a quality label.

Apple notes, good minerality, refreshing

Raymond Metzener with his Laurier Platine winning Domaine Chatelanat Clos de la Dame 2011 wine

This year I took part in the selection: more about that as soon as I tell you about the wine itself, the star of the show.

Clos de la Dame has a delicate nose of apple, especially green apple and some citrus fruit.

Two other tasters near me said after we finished that it had a touch of minerality at the end, although not everyone agrees you can smell “mineral” and for me there was a hint of saltiness (but how do you smell that?).

In mouth this wine comes into its own: fruity than the nose led me to expect, round yet refreshing, with apple again present, a very pleasing minerality and a relatively long finish. A classic with lake fish or white meat.

The winery has been in the same family for 150 years—today’s descendents are the Bugnion and Briod families—and winemaking has been handled by the Metzeners for 100 years, in the kind of close relationship that is typical of some of the other Clos, Domaines & Chateaux wineries in Vaud.

Metzener, who oversees the 8.5 hectares of vines, works with Claude Jaccard, cellar master, and oenologist Thierry Ciampi, well known for his work at the Schenk winery.

Metzener’s vines are spread around the triangle where Perroy, Féchy and Mont-sur-Rolle come together.

The Clos de la Dame vine parcel is on the hillside that runs up to Bougy-Villars. “I guess we’re lucky,” Metzener told me in Perroy after winning the award. “Our wines from up on the hillside take a bit longer to come into their own.”

Thursday evening, November chill settling over the Clos de la Dame vines: time to let the vineyard rest a bit after being voted the best Vaud Chasselas

He’s been working hard to diversify from the almost entirely Chasselas collection of grapes, which now comprise 80 percent of the vines.

He recently added several grape varieties, and he’s particularly happy about the Doral, a grape developed at Changins in Switzerland that is a cross between Chasselas and Chardonnay.

But Chasselas remains a regular winner here. Clos de la Dame 2011 won silver at the Grand Prix du Vin Suisse, judged in July, and gold at the Mondial du Chasselas, judged in June.

This year’s platine wine was one of only two among the 16 Terravin Lauriers de Platine finalists that was not from Lavaux, the famed Unesco World Heritage terraced vines region.

The 900 entries are tasted and judged for quality by a team of professionals, mainly oenologists, during the course of several weeks. They select, based on a set of criteria, 32 of the best, then in later tastings they reduce this to 16.

Now we’re down to just 8 wines to be tasted and compared again

Thursday, a group of 25 of us, some professionals in the wine business, others wine journalists like me, sat down to select our favourite. No criteria were given for making our selection. “It’s totally subjective, simply choose the wine you like best,” I was told by oenologist Rodrigo Banto from Cave Cidis in Morges, who has done this before.

We started with a flight of four and had to number them in the order in which we liked them. We did this four more times to work our way through the 16. Believe me, deciding your preferences among 16 Chasselas wines of the same vintage is not easy! There are differences, but they are often subtle. We took a break before returning to the table to re-taste the top eight based on our first selections. And then a very short pause before the final selection, the best of four.

Metzener’s wine came in number 2 in the first selection, then number 1 in the second and number 1 again in the third and final round.

Did we remember which wines we had already tasted? Some yes, most said maybe or no: no one I spoke to felt sure they had given the same top ratings to the same wines. Loving a wine is partly a question of what goes before and after it. Certain tendancies in personal preferences became apparent, with some people liking more floral or more mineral wines, but even these preferences shift in the course of a tasting session.

We couldn’t check our own rankings against the final list until later in the day, so unless we made notes about the wines as we went along, and kept our sheets, it was impossible to know if we agreed or not with the crowd.

This is what I learned:

  • by the time you prune 900 wines down to the 16 best, all of them are very fine wines
  • comparing one very fine wine to 15 others forces you to reflect on how much of your judgement is a matter of winemaking style, your own taste, or in the end, the ability of the terroir to dance well with both of these
  • anyone who can close his eyes and say, “aha, this is so-and-so’s wine from the such-and-such winery, vintage 2011″ when comparing it to other wines from the same grape is either a bluff or he drinks that wine so regularly he would know it in his sleep.

Viva la différence!

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WHERE TO FIND THE WINE

Clos de la Dame 2011, Domaine Chatelanat, Perroy, canton Vaud: CHF12 for 75cl. Winery open Mon-Fri by appointment, Saturday 9-12.

List of other wines available soon on the Terravin web site.