17 January 2013

Yes, the Wine is Supposed to Look Like That

My favorite Swiss white wine looks like a mistake. Imagine a wineglass filled with cloudy yellow swamp water.

Last night, no imagining was necessary at the ceremonial unveiling of the 2012 vintage of non-filtré Neuchâtel wines.

For 10 francs, we celebrants each received a wine glass engraved with "NE Le non filtré" with which to taste 26 wines if we had the stamina.

These unfiltered wines made from chasselas grapes are a regional specialty of Canton Neuchâtel. Normally, I'm no fan of chasselas, the most widely cultivated white wine grape in Switzerland. To me chasselas wines usually taste oily and flabby. But the cloudy unfiltered ones have, paradoxically, a brightness to them. They're fruity and fresh, meant to be drunk the first year, like Beaujolais Nouveau.

Around the world, most wines, red and white, are filtered in some way to remove "impurities" (yeast cells and other microorganisms) that can cloud a wine or cause it to go off. But filtration can also suck out flavor. The international wine industry favors stable wines from a given region that taste the same bottle after bottle. Neuchâtel's unfiltered chasselas are the opposite of this -- some cloudier than others, some fruitier, some more acidic. And the sediments don't like to be shaken around too much. Last night, before opening each bottle, the servers would turn it upside down and gently swirl it to distribute the sediment.

There was flavor aplenty at last night's annual tasting of the new vintage. Flavor too in the variety of us celebrants, including a group of Japanese wine lovers who were curious about the costumed members of wine brother(and sister)hoods.

And more flavor, more history, in the grand surroundings, Neuchâtel's hôtel de ville (city hall).

And les belles Neuchâteloise.

At the height of the festivities I estimated at least 500 tipplers upstairs and down, and I promise I wasn't seeing double even though by that time, I had tasted somewhere between 12 and 112 different wines.

Which is just one more reason to love Belle Neuchâtel.


  1. Love this very interesting article. Want to taste a wince that has such unusual qualities.

  2. Kim, come to Neuchâtel! Soon before this year's non-filtrés are gone!