Gutedel - the unknown grape variety
Updated: Nov 24
This grape variety is cultivated on a grand scale in just one single region in Baden, the Markgräflerland. It accounts for almost a third of the area under cultivation there, and rightly so.
With its subtle acidity and moderate alcohol levels, it offers exactly the kind of wine that people like to drink today.
It could be considered an everyday wine, but more and more winemakers are paying particular attention to the grape and are now producing wines in great diversity.
The first question is: Where does it come from?
This white wine grape is one of the oldest known varieties. The exact origin is unknown. The well-known grape variety researchers Dr. José Vouillamoz and Claire Anrold carried out a historical-genetic study in 2009, which showed that the Gutedel originates from the Lake Geneva region, and most likely from the Waadt.
And how did the grape variety come to the Markgräfler Land?
The uniform, widespread distribution of the Gutedel is said to be due to the last Margrave (German: "Markgraf") and first Grand Duke of Baden Karl Friedrich (1728-1811).
In 1780, he had seedlings brought from Vevey on Lake Geneva. There he had learned to appreciate and love vines and wine during his studies at the Knight's Academy in Lausanne.
He promoted the cultivation of vines in the Markgräfler Land and arranged for vines to be grown only in good locations and in pure sets. At that time, it was still common to plant many different grape varieties on the same field.
Now that the grape variety could be vinified single varietal, it soon gained a good reputation and is even said to have been called Markgräfler at the time, which in turn is said to have given the region its name. (Whether this is true or not remains to be seen).
Where does the name come from?
The wine was considered "good" (German: "gut") and "noble" (German: "edel"), which is said to have led to the name of the Gutedel grape.
Where is the wine grown?
Worldwide, the variety is grown on about 20,000 ha, but in many countries, it serves as a table grape. It´s grown in large quantities for wine production in just a few regions of the world
In the highest esteem and with that also the largest wine-growing area is in Switzerland.
Here the grape is called Chasselas and grows on about 3,800 ha, mainly around Lake Geneva and in Waadt.. In total, 26% of Switzerland's wine production is of this grape variety. A speciality is produced in Valais, as here (and only here) the variety may be called Fendant.
Switzerland's higher altitude vineyards are also home to very high-quality cru wines that can show spice and smoky aromas in addition to freshness. One example is the Clos du Rocher site in Yvorne, which is almost 96% planted with Chasselas vines.
In France, the grape is grown mainly in Alsace, the Loire and Savoy. Here too, when people talk about Gutedel, they refer to it as Chasselas. However, there are only about 100 hectares of the vines left in the country.
In Germany, about 1,100 ha are cultivated, most of which are in Baden in the Markgräflerland. In addition, there is still some Gutedel in Saale-Unstrut. Smaller cultivated areas are also found in Saxony, the Palatinate and Rheinhessen.
What makes the grape so special?
Gutedel is usually vinified dry and yields neutral, low-acid wines with subtle citrus scents. Almonds, white flowers, subtle apple aromas and sometimes a bit of mint can be detected. It is known to vary depending on the terroir.
A wine from the Markgräflerland tastes significantly different to a wine from Switzerland, as here the wine is often developed with BSA (biological acid degradation), which makes the wines more melting and mouth-filling. A large production area is the region around Yvorne. The wines often show a special minerality and attain a particularly high quality as cru wines.
In Germany, the emphasis is on the freshness of the wine.
And here, too, we find more and more variations. Wines that are left longer on the lees, thus possessing a greater depth of expression, are experiencing great popularity. These wines are usually called Chasslie or Chasselas-sur-lie.
There are also wineries that store the wine in large wooden barrels, thereby achieving wines with a particular depth and shelf life.
Also so-called orange wines, wines that are fermented with skin, are found more and more often.
The Ziereisen winery in Efringen-Kirchen has even been awarded 100 points from Gault&Millau with its Gutedel Jaspis 10 hoch 4 from the 2015 vintage. This has never been achieved by a Gutedel before.
What does the future hold?
It is generally said that the Gutedel should be consumed early, but more and more winemakers allow the particularly good qualities to mature for 10 or more years before they put them on the market. The Ziereisen winery should be mentioned here once again. It produces Gutedel wines that can be stored for 20 years or more.
Various competitions also contribute largely to bringing wine more into the focus of consumers.
For example, the Gutedel Cup is held every year in Badenweiler, where more than 200 wines are judged by a jury of several members.
In Switzerland, the Mondial de Chasselas is considered the key event for high-quality Chasselas, and more and more often a German wine is on the winner's podium.
If you want to try the wines of the Markgräflerland for yourself, go to the vineyards between Staufen and Müllheim on the "Gutedel-Tag" (day of the Gutedel) on Ascension Day. The wine cellars are open and invite you to taste the specialty of the region.
Speaking of taste:
Gutedel can be enjoyed simply as a terrace wine due to its mild acidity. However, it is also excellent with fish and mild cheeses. In Switzerland, it is the classic companion to cheese fondue and raclette.
Enjoy exploring the wines made from this delicious grape variety.