To celebrate my arrival as FOUR’s wine columnist, I have selected an exceptional bottle. A Grande champagne, yes, but first and foremost, a true wine. This is haute wine, with very few bottles produced. Its apparition is sure to bring an instant beam to the eager lips of any lucky connoisseur.
Because there is no better place to taste a good bottle than out in the fresh air, we are taking this bottle to the seaside. These rare bubbles need no accompaniment so let them whet the appetite and intoxicate the senses before we dine. Unless, of course, you happen to catch a lobster in your net, in which case, it would be great, lightly grilled, accompanied by a chilled glass.
Anselme Selosse makes champagne like no-one before him and the way he talks about it is unique. He does more than simply add the sparkle; he brings the wine out of itself. He starts with the vine, because that is where it all begins. “100 per cent of the wine’s identity comes from the vine and it is lost, masked or destroyed through the winemaking process.”
A dozen men work over seven and a half tiny hectares spread over 47 parcels of land in the finest territories of the ‘Côte des Blancs’. His philosophy: “The wine must be an expression of the environment and we must be respectful of it, because the environment is what gives the wine its character.”
He doesn’t talk about organic or biodynamic cultivation. Anselme Selosse refuses any form of ‘dogma’. However, the truth is that he integrated, assimilated and adapted these principles a long time ago. Anselme Selosse is always one step ahead of the game.
When he talks about ‘mineral qualities’, it isn’t to play the big expert. He explains precisely what the term means: “The vine reaches deep into the soil in search of mineral particles. Micro-organisms soften the rock enabling the roots to digest the minerals.” This is the ‘salt of wine’. It is vital to aid and preserve this microbial activity and not to destroy it with pesticides. Then he explains what happens above ground—yeast—which also defines the wine and develops its complexity. These little microscopic beings evolve according to location and vintage. At harvest time the grape’s skin is covered in the yeast. Once the grape has been pressed, the yeast ensures its fermentation (the transformation of the grape’s sugar into alcohol). However, they are also responsible for generating the numerous flavours, which are as complex as they are varied. Today, the majority of wines are fermented with yeast selected in a lab and locked inside sachets, either because winemakers are afraid to leave the success of their harvest in the hands of unpredictable Mother Nature or because they have destroyed the yeast with chemicals. On these sachets you might read that yeast X will give a note of banana or that yeast Y will provide the notes of a chardonnay grape, no matter where you are in the world and no matter what grape you’re using.
So there you have it, thanks to Anselme Selosse you now know what makes a great wine: mineral qualities and complexity. Ideally, a vine exposed exclusively and entirely to the magic of nature and the work of a man or woman who trusts her. If you’re lucky, he might let you into his cellar to admire his ingenuity; it is a place where effervescence overflows, where you can admire a grape press built according to his own design in order to collect the foam where these legendary little yeasts reside. Therein stands an army of barrels, because only wood can enable the parsimonious yet vital exchange with oxygen. If you sample some you will see that no two wines taste the same.
To one side, there is a barrel that is bigger than all others. Anselme Selosse has filled this cask with the harvest of 1986. Each year he takes a small amount to make a few bottles and then fills it back up with his most recent vintage. “This way the young wine can learn from its elders how better to behave.” This ancient method known as ‘Solera’ was once practised in the South of France, but most certainly not in Champagne. No doubt this is a way of thumbing his nose at the revered ‘vintage champagne’, the star of so many renowned champagne houses. Whether this is the result of an experiment or some fun, who cares! The staggering Substance is born. The first mouthful is like a slap in the face. You will never have tasted anything like it, but then the emotion of wine lies in the surprises, and if you let yourself be carried across fields, through woods and over flowerbeds, the journey will be worth your time, for there is a message in this bottle.
Corinne et Anselme Selosse
Champagnes Jacques Selosse
22, rue Ernest Vallé
51 190 Avize
Like this? Subscribe to FOUR here.
Sylvie Augereau was born in Loire Valley and still resides there today. A wine journalist for international publications, including GQ and Fool and French titles Carnet de Vigne (Hachette 2007, 2009, 2010), Le Nouvel Observateur and La Revue du Vin de, Sylvie is also a vine worker.