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
Vineyard



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 Parker (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
Soils


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 
Masterclass

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 winesearcher.com (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, scalawine.com, 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, winetomas.wordpress.com, 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

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