Friday, March 30, 2018

Jacques Selosse, "one of the most revered producers in Champagne"

I continue my review of Champagne's Great Growers with a look at Anselme Selosse and Domaine Jacques Selosse which, according to Walters, is ... "one of the most revered producers in Champagne." Like Agrapart & Fils, Selosse is headquartered in Avize.

Anselme Selosse (r) with Ron Siegel at the inaugural La Fête
du Champagne in NYC

Walters sees the "grower revolution" beginning with Anselme Selosse and his philosophy that "... authentic wines were wines of terroir and that the only way to make wines rich in terroir was to encourage a living soil and balanced yields and to use winemaking techniques that allowed the terroir to speak as clearly as possible." Selosse's practices vis a vis Walters' methods for producing Champagnes de Terroir are illustrated below.

In interview after interview, Selosse stresses the importance of terroir to the quality of his wines. Much is made of the fact that he studied his craft in Burgundy (rather than in Champagne), first at Lycée Viticole de Beaune and then working at Burgundy properties such as Coche, Lafon and Leflaive. It is this experience, it is said, which informs his vineyard practices. Selosse's focus on terroir is illustrated in the number of lieux-dits offerings -- six -- that are included in his portfolio.

After leaving Burgundy, Anselme went on to work in Rioja and became enamored with that region's Reserva aging wherein wines are held in barrels for extended periods prior to bottling. This practice changes the structure and aromatic and flavor profiles of the wine.

The Selosse portfolio is shown in the two tables below.

The Selosse non-Lieux-Dits wines

Initial (NV) Version Originale (NV) Exquise Sec (NV) Millésimé (V) Substance Rosé
Variet(ies)y Chardonnay 100% Chardonnay 100% Chardonnay 100% Chardonnay 100% Chardonnay Chardonnay
Village(s)  Avize, Cramant, Oger Avize (dominant), Cramant, Oger Oger Avize Avize Avize; Ambonnay

Les Chantereines (east-facing) and Les Maladries (south-facing) Le Mort de Cramant (south-facing) and Les Chantereines

Soils Sites low on the slope; deep, clay-rich soils Mostly on higher slopes; less clay so vines tap directly into the chalk Foothills

Composition Three successive vintages

From four south-facing parcels; off-dry

Repetitive blend beginning in 1986 Blend of two successive vintages of Avize Chardonnay + 6% Ambonnay Pinot Noir Rouge from Francis Egly
Lees Aging 5 - 6 years 6 - 7 years Min 5 years 9 - 10 years 5 - 6 years 5-year minimum
Dosage 3.5 - 5 g/l 0 - 1.3 g/l 20 - 24 g/l 0 - 2.4 g/l 1.3 - 2.4 g/l 2.4 - 5.5 g/l

Derived from Walters (Bursting Bubbles).

The Selosse Lieux-Dits

La Côte Faron Les Chantereines Chemin de Châlons Sous le Mont Le Bout de Clos Les Carelles
Variet(ies)y Pinot Noir Chardonnay 100% Chardonnay 100% Pinot Noir Pinot Noir (80%), Chardonnay Chardonnay
Village(s)  Aÿ Avize Cramant Mareuil-sur-Aÿ Ambonnay Le Mesnil-sur-Oger
Vineyard La Côte Faron. Steep, south-facing slope purchased by Selosse in 1994 East-facing on gentle slope. old vines planted 1922, 1928, 1935, 1945 East-facing on gentle slope. Deep, deep roots East-facing on middle of hillside Acquired in 2001 Rocky site. South-, SE-facing. Acquired in 2002. Very deep roots

Chalky Magnesium in chalk Lots of clay Steep with fractured chalk bedrock
Composition Blanc de Noir. Perpetual blend which began in 1994 Made separately since 2003. Perpetual blend Made separately since 2003. Perpetual blend Purchased in 2003. Perpetual blend Perpetual blend Perpetual blend
Lees Aging 6 years 6 years 6 years 6 years 6 years 6 years
Dosage 0 - 3 g/l 0 - 3 g/l 0 - 3 g/l 0 - 3 g/l 0 - 3 g/l 0 - 3 g/l
Derived from Parker (Bursting Bubbles).

Peter Liem calls the Selosse blending process solera and describes it as being akin to the process used to make sherry in Jerez. Both White and Parker refer to the Selosse method as perpetual blending. According to Parker, the true solera method requires that each vintage (criadera) be kept separately with the oldest vintage being called the solera. Selosse, on the other hand, adds the new vintage to a common pool and then draws from that pool for the current season's wine.

Selosse lineup at Ron's 2017 Thanksgiving dinner

The wines presented by Anselme at his La Fete du Champagne 

Selosse has his fair share of critics. The harshest and most persistent has been Tom Stevenson, identified by Simon Field MW -- champagne buyer of BBR -- as the champagne expert with the greatest depth of knowledge (Patrick Schmitt, Points take on greater importance for Prestige Cuvées, The Drinks Business, 6/20/2012). Writing in The World of Fine Wine (Champagne Selosse: The House that Jacques Built, Issue 21, 2008), Stevenson said that Selosse's wines "do not live up to Anselme's abilities or his terroir." He found the wines to be "too oxidative," "too aldehydic," and "too oaky." The oxidative character was caused, he said, by long barrel aging and a low-sulfur regime. Writing on (Champagne's Overachievers & Underperformers, 12/19/2013), Stevenson identified Selosse as one of the 5 most overrated Champagne Producers." He implies that Selosse tasted blind is returned as faulty wine and characterizes Selosse's adding of SO₂ at harvest as being done at the wrong end of the winemaking process.

Tom Hall (Champagne Jacques Selosse -- A Profile,, 7/18/2012), thinks that Stevenson is much too harsh on the Selosse wines. He does find them oaky but also finds them to be "outstanding for their arresting tang and vinosity combined with what I can only call a gorgeous finesse of mousse ..." The wood regime masks the wines with "a spice and burnished character that is unique in Champagne." The concentrated nature of the wine allows it to stand up to the wood which is, nonetheless, obvious. According to Hall, "Given the rhetoric of this estate is devoted to the naked revelation of 'terroir,' ... what the wines reveal most in taste, is the winemaking and barrel regime."

Tomas echoed similar sentiments after a comparative tasting of Jacquesson and Selosse single-vineyard champagnes (Jacquesson versus Selosse -- a duel in vineyard champagnes,, 9/16/2012): "Through the entire tasting, what was most obvious was the enormous stylistic difference between the Jacquesson and Selosse wines." This stylistic difference was stronger than village, varietal, or vintage-character differences. His conclusion was that the wines reflected what you would expect when a good producer makes wines with grapes from a good vineyard -- "really good wine that is marked by the producer's style in addition to the grape varieties and their origins."

Tomas views some of the Selosse practices as working against the exposition of terroir. The solera style utilized by Selosse is better-suited to evening out vintage characteristics and increasing oxidative exposure; and oxidation is not the best vehicle for revealing the underlying character of the wine. His conclusion was that Selosse wines were "Selosse-specific" rather than "terroir-specific."

Hall and Tomas tee up a seeming contradiction: "Anselme Selosse talks endlessly about the mission to ensure the wines reflect their origins. But it is important to notice the very sophisticated oenology and technical operation in winemaking that is going on here too" (Hall). And Tomas: "But there is an issue here when the winemaking claims so much of our attention on tasting, but all the while we are told it's terroir."

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The "Great Growers": Champagne Agrapart & Fils

In an article titled Alternative Champagne 2 (The World of Fine Wine, Issue 35, 2012), Robert Walters describes "Champagne de Terroir," as a wine which "maximizes the expression of the vineyard and removes the influence of the winemaker."  These Champagnes de Terroir are, according to Walters, "only produced successfully by a handful of the finest growers." In Issue 36 of TWoFW, Walters  characterizes the methods of these "Superior Grower Producers" as captured in the graph below.

In his recently published book (Bursting Bubbles), Walters now refers to these artisanal producers as "Great Growers." I will utilize information from Walters, Peter Liem (Champagne), David White (But First, Champagne), and Producer websites to build profiles of each of these Growers and their offerings. I begin herein with Champagne Agrapart & Fils.

Agrapart was founded in the Côte des Blancs village of Avize in 1894 by Arthur Agrapart and extended by his grandson Pierre in the 1950s and 1960s. Pascal and his brother Fabrice, the estate's fourth generation, have been in charge of the estate since the mid-1980s.

Agrapart currently owns 12 ha of Grand Cru vineyards in Avize (primarily), Ogier, Cramant, and Oiry distributed over 50 plots (according to the estate website; White claims 60 parcels while Walters claims 70).

The estate does not adhere to any formal farming technique but eschews fertilizers and employs "ploughing and homemade compost" to "encourage the rooting and the microbial life of the soil."

Because of the small plot sizes in Champagne, a producer generally presses grapes from multiple villages and stores the resulting wines separately until blended. In Agrapart's view, some of these components show as complete and then regress when blended with wines from another village. He noticed no such regression when wines from similar geological environments were blended. This led him to implement geological blends -- finished Champagnes that come from vineyards with similar geology (Walters). In Pascal's assessment, these similar-soil wines blend more "comfortably."

The range of Agrapart wines are shown in the picture directly below and detailed individually in the  table following.


7 Crus (NV) Terroirs (NV) Les Demoiselles Rosé (NV) Complantée Minéral L’Avizoise Cuvée Venus
Variet(ies)y Chardonnay (90%), Pinot Noir* (10%) 100% Chardomnnay Chardonnay, Pinot Noir Pinot Noir, Pinot meunier, Pinot Bianco, Petit Meslier, Chardonnay

50 yr Chardonnay vines Chardonnay vines planted in 1959
Village(s)  Chardonnay from 7 villages, Pinot Noir from Agrapart plot in Avanay-val-d’Or in Montagne de Reims Avize, Cramant, Oger, Oiry Best Chardonnay from Grand Cru vineyards, Pinot Noir Avize Old vines from Avize and Cramant From the best Avize hillsides on clay soils Avize

La Fosse (0.3 ha plot in the vineyard planted in 2002 and 2003) Le Champ Bouton in Avize; Bionnes in Cramant Les Robarts, La Voie d’Épernay La Fosse; worked by worker and horse
Composition Two vintages Two vintages Terroirs blended with still Pinot Noir from Cumierès (Purchased from René Geoffroy) Grapes co-harvested and co-fermented; two vintages

Fermentation Indigenous yeasts; 600 l oak barrels Indigenous yeasts; 600 l oak barrels

Indigenous yeasts; 600 l oak barrels Indigenous yeasts; 600 l oak barrels Indigenous yeasts; 600 l oak barrels Indigenous yeasts; 600 l oak barrels
Aging Oak Barrels Oak Barrels

Oak Oak Oak Oak
Lees Aging 3 years 3 - 4 years

4 years 6 - 7 years
6 - 7 years
Dosage 7 g/l 5 g/l

5 g/l 4 g/l 4 g/l Zero
SO₂ 50 mg/l 50 mg/l

50 mg/l 50 mg/l 50 mg/l 50 mg/l

Broadly built baritone wine (Liem) Finesse, complexity, and a saline expression of soil. Consistently one of the finest blanc de balance in Champagne (Liem). One of the region’s greatest (Parker)
Data sources: Peter Liem, Champagne; Robert Walters, Bursting Bubbles; David White, But First, Champagne; Estate website.

Experience is an Agrapart offering not mentioned in the table above because of its uniqueness and miniscule and infrequent production. The wine, which started out as an experiment, is 100% Chardonnay of which commercial vintages have been produced in 2007, 2012, 2014, and 2015. Production is around 600 bottles. No sugar is added to this wine. Instead, the base wine is aged for 1 year and then carefully blended with unfermented juice (the source of the sugar and yeast necessary for secondary fermentation in the bottle). This wine spends between 2 and 3 years on the lees.

The theme that runs through the Agrapart wines, according to Parker, are
... pillowy textures from ripe Chardonnay that has been aged on its lees and has gone through malolactic fermentation married to a racy, saline, mineral freshness that all wines share. Because of these two features, they are mouth-filling and relatively full-bodied wines, yet they are never heavy; rather, they are always refreshing, energetic and racy. They are without doubt some of the very finest wines being produced today in Champagne.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Book Review: Robert Walters' Bursting Bubbles -- A Secret History of Champagne and the Rise of the Great Growers

I first became aware of Robert Walters through his writings in The World of Fine Wine and, as a matter of fact, drew heavily on his writings for posts on whether Champagne can be considered a fine wine and the characteristics of grower-producers in the Champagne region. His writings were incisive and thought-provoking and the memories provided the impetus for me to acquire his book when it was published.

The book, according to the jacket text, takes us on a journey to visit some of the "artisanal" producers who have arisen in the Champagne region over the past 20 years while also revealing "a secret history" of the region and dispelling "many of the myths that still persist about this celebrated life style."

It is probably challenging to release your Champagne effort in the same year as Peter Liem introduced his epic (Champagne) and shortly after David White brought his excellent effort (But First, Champagne) to market. The David White book is exceptionally strong on the history of Champagne (as is the Liem book) and provides excellent synopses of the sub-regions, negociants, and grower-producers. The Liem book is strong on the production side but sets out to change the way we think of the terroirs of Champagne and Champagne as a terroir wine.

Walters argument is, that for the most part, Champagne is not a terroir wine. As a matter of fact, "for most commercial Champagne, much of the wine's aroma, flavors, and texture comes from the winemaking process rather than from the grapes themselves." Champagne, as he sees it, is a highly manipulated beverage whose prestige is largely due to excellent marketing. And, the success of the current product set, using the current practices, motivate strongly for the status quo.

There is a small group of growers, however, who have bucked the generic approach in pursuit of the goal of Champagne as a wine reflective of its terroir. These producers apply viticultural practices designed to yield ripe fruit (anathema in the region) and cellar practices that are less manipulative in order to produce wines that are more expressive of their terroirs. Walters characterizes the methods of these "Superior Grower Producers" as follows:
  • Own or manage their own vineyards
  • Make wines from their own grapes
  • Begin with a desire to make wines that reflect their origins
    • Single-vineyard or single-commune wines
  • Manage the vineyards with little or no chemical input
    • Biodynamic or organic
  • Plow the soil
  • Seek lower yields than customary for the region
  • Pursue intense fruit so that lower dosage is needed
  • Use dosage in minimal amounts (when used) to balance acidity
  • Mature slowly; no fining or filtering.
The products emanating from this process are wines first and Champagne second, according to Walters.  They are drier, more vinous, clean, pure, and long of finish.  They tend to age well and, in his view, are better with food than a traditional Champagne.

The Growers that fit this mold include Egly-Ouriet, Selosse, Agrapart, Larmandier-Bernier, Jérome Prévost, and Cedric Bouchard. In discussing Selosse and Egly, Walters states thusly:
I have often heard comparisons in France between Anselme Selosse and Francis Egly. These two are certainly the most iconic grower-producers in their respective areas and grape varieties: Egly in the Montagne de Reims and with Pinot Noir-dominant wines, and Selosse in the Côte des Blancs with Chardonnay-dominant wines (for the most part). In many ways, they are the foundation stones of the great grower movement and as such they share much common ground. Both blazed trails that others could follow. Both were heavily influenced by Burgundy. Both aim for fully ripe fruit and harvest significantly later than their colleagues. And both utilise the barrique as their maturation vessel of choice. Undoubtedly, Selosse, as a more outspoken, open and charaismatic figure, has been far more influential on the grower movement in general, yet the Egly legacy is also significant.
This is a very small group of players (less than 5% of Champagne exports come from this group) and is declining in number as members yield to the siren song of increasing grape prices.

Walters does an excellent job of detailing why Champagne is not, for the most part, a great wine (when compared to the characteristics used to define great wine in broader France) and telling the stories of the grower-producers. He builds psychographic portraits of these growers and then tries to trace these traits into their wines.

I have issues with the organization of the book though. I found the cover art to be intriguing but thought that the title layout was a bit too much (By the way, a more playful slipcover is employed in the Australian market. I like it.).

There are maps on the inside back and front covers which show the locations of the producers but there is no context when you first see them and there are no references within the book to them. The author spends a lot of words describing travels between the locations while a reference to the maps might have sufficed.

The content is organized roughly as follows: Topic #1; Mythbusting; Producer visit; Mythbusting; Topic #2 ... This breaks up whatever flow there is/should be. The reader probably would have been better served by a more cohesive organization with the mythbusting topics all put into one place in an Appendix or elsewhere. I was not exactly sure of the benefits associated with busting these myths once again anyway.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Bruno Giacosa's Falletto di Serralunga: A tasting of selected vintages (La Pizza Fresca, NYC)

The announcement of Bruno Giacosa's death hit higher on the scale for me as I had attended a tasting of selected Giacosa wines at La Pizza Fresca just two weeks prior. That tasting, led by Levi Dalton of I'll Drink to That fame, covered four instances of each of his Falletto MGA Barolo offerings. The wines, and the accompanying dishes, are shown below. A description of the terroir precedes the discussion of the tasting.

The MGA is illustrated in strawberry in the figure below. The Le Rocche del Falletto portion is shown as a golden wedge to the north.

Giacosa made his wines with purchased fruit until he bought the "majestic" Falletto vineyard in 1982. This vineyard, it is widely agreed, became the source of one of his greatest Barolos. The Giacosa formula for great vineyards is: (i) high hill country positioning, (ii) south to southwest sun exposure, and (iii) amphitheatre-like vineyards; Falletto fits this profile almost perfectly.

The Giacosa wines from this vineyard are labeled Falletto (white label) and Rocche del Falletto (from four south-facing plots on the upper slopes of the vineyard. The Rocche del Falletto plots support the crus oldest vines (35+ years) grown in clay and calcareous soils.

The Riservas spend an additional 6 months in wood -- and an additional year in bottle -- over the white labels.

Vintage Conditions
The table below shows the vintage conditions for each of the years from which wines were drawn for the tasting.

Vintage Falletto Le Rocche del Falletto Le Rocche del Falletto Riserva Vintage Conditions (as per Jancis Robinson)

More structure and potential than 1997; some very fine elegant wines


Very good quality. Voluptuous Barolo and Barbaresco; recalls 1997

X Very good partly thanks to a heatwave from mid-August to mid-September. Nebbiolo exceptional with excellent acidity, ripeness, and great flavor definition. For the long term

X Excellent quality from an early vintage. In the mold of 1999 and 1997 rather than for the long term. No shortage of ripeness or structure; an occasional shortage of acidity


Heatwave vintage. Oldest vines managed to withstand the weather and yield some exceptional wines

X Well-balanced wines


Reduced crop of decent but unremarkable wines for medium-term drinking

X Low-yielding year but good quality fruit

The Tasting
After the appropriate amount of social banter, Brad (proprietor of La Pizza Fresca) called us to order. In his opening remarks he mentioned that this tasting had been in the works for several years and that Bruna (Bruno's daughter) could not come due to her father's ill health and her responsibilities. The tasting, however, had Bruna's blessing. He then turned the floor over to Levi Dalton.

Levi then gave attendees a lecture (in the positive sense) on the history of Bruno Giacosa and the Falletto vineyard (he also gave credit to Ken Vastola for being the repository of a lot of the information that he was providing).

Brad and his Nixonian move as MD Savino asks
"What am I doing here?"

Levi asking attendees to go light on him prior
to the start of the event

Paul Tocci (R) thinking about DRC

There were no dogs in the Falletto flight. The 1998 showed violets, florality, red fruits, and baking spices on the nose. Rich, sour finish. Levi said this was a vintage wherein one can find accessibility. He liked it. The 2000 showed spice, red fruit, earth, mushrooms, and a savoriness. Red fruit on the palate. Great weight. Elegant, clean finish. The 2001 had licorice, tobacco, smoke, and sweet red fruit on the nose. Leaner than the preceding wines. Medium-bodied. Red fruit and tar on palate. Lengthy finish. The 2004 showed tamarind, tar, blackberries, spice and a mineral note. Massive. Sour red fruit. Structured. Time is its best friend.

Carpaccio di Manzo

Agnolotti di Zucca

All of the wines in the Rocche del Falletto flight showed well. The 1998 showed tar, roses, strawberry, earth, and soy on the nose. Minerality, balance and a lengthy finish. The 1999 showed dark cherries, roses, tar, earth, and balsamic notes. Dark fruits on the palate preceding a lengthy finish. The 2003 belied its vintage. Ripe fruit, tar, and herbs on the nose but balanced. The 2005 showed dried rose petals tar, and licorice on the nose. Savory with drying tannins. Lengthy finish.

Pizza Margherita

A dark, rich power, along with lengthy finishes, seemed to be the hallmark of the Rocche del Falletto Riservas. In addition, the 2000 showed licorice, herbs, and mint on the nose and well integrated tannins on the palate. The 2001 showed sweet red fruit and an earthiness on the nose, the former of which was evident on the palate along with great texture and balance. The 2004 had similar nasal characteristics as the 2001 along with more traditional Barolo characteristics and herbs. The 2007 was redolent with cherry and tobacco notes.

This was a high-quality tasting both in terms of the wines on offer and the job done by Levi. Bruno Giacosa wines are legendary; and they are legendary for a reason. So there was no surprise there.

This was the first tasting that I had attended where Levi was honchoing and I was pleased. Levi has a self-deprecating personality -- both in terms of speech and mannerisms -- but that disappears once he is in front of an audience and begins to delve into this area which he is obviously passionate about. This was a terroir tasting as presented by Levi. While many presenters see wine dinners as an opportunity to say a few words between dishes, Levi expounded on the terroir of Falletto Bruno Giacosa, and the wines at great length. It was superlative.

Levi was ably assisted by Eric Guido (Morrell) who dutifully held up a map at one point during the tasting but, more importantly, tasted through all the wines prior to the start of the event to ensure that only quality bottles made it through.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme