Chasselas is not a principle feature of the Alsatian winescape. In fact, it is hardly available in Alsace, and its population there is decreasing. Chasselas gets the most attention in France as table grapes, but in Switzerland and in the Crépy region of the Savoie in the French Alps it is grown with care for vinous purposes. In Alsace it is generally destined for blending into Edelzwicker, which is as close to 'tap wine' from Alsace as you can get.
Common Characteristics of Chasselas
Chasselas, when well-made, is a delightful, fresh, and vividly zippy wine that often has a lemon and lemon blossom fragrance, and is usually fairly delicate. These are wines intended to be happy and carefree, which is in part the reason they are included in Edelzwicker. Those who choose to make a varietally labeled Chasselas tend to be committed to the variety itself, despite its stagnance in the marketplace. Wine made from old vine Chasselas usually has a distinctly richer character than is typical, with a denser texture and creamy sense of fruit concentration. It is from old vines that Domaine Schoffit, without question, makes the most consistent Chasselas available in the United States. Pierre Sparr also makes a tasty Chasselas, and I had a very good one from Paul Blanck a few years ago, but I do not know if they still make one.
Late Harvest and Dessert Chasselas
The only way I have ever heard of Chasselas used in this sort of specialized form is when it is a component of Vin de Paille, which is a densely sweet wine made from grapes that have been dried on straw mats (paille=straw), or more commonly hung from the rafters to dry, and vinified. I suspect that Chasselas is used in this role because it doesn't cost much. Vin de Paille is horrendously expensive to make, considering if you started with two tons of fruit, you could end up with only ten gallons of liquid, and where's the economy in that? Blending Chasselas and Sylvaner in with the Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Pinot Gris would certainly make the cost easier to stomach, but that still does little to ensure that you'll ever see one on your wine store's shelves.
Chasselas and Food
Oysters are a great combination with Chasselas, and I find herring to be a good companion as well. Old vine Chasselas can have enough richness to be a good wine with scallops, but the preparation shouldn't be overly flavored--add something grander than a white wine sauce and you should search for something else. Other good pairings would be chicken (especially Chicken Salad), clams, crab, skate, and Port Salut cheese.
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