Visiting Champagne Jacques Selosse, with Anselme Selosse

Anselme Selosse

Selosse is different. And brilliant. It was great to be able to visit this celebrated grower, who in turn has influenced and inspired many more growers to begin making their own, terroir-expressive

Anselme’s father, Jacques, established the domaine in 1949, and Anselme came to work here in 1974. In his third vintage, the very hot 1976, he figured that he didn’t need to add so much sugar. The resulting wines were a revelation to him, and he began his journey towards the terroir wines he makes today. Holdings are 7.5 hectares, mostly Chardonnay from Grand Cru sites in the Cote des Blancs, but also with some Pinot Noir in top sites on the Montagne des Reims. Production averages 58 000 bottles a year.

A recent venture has been the Les Avises hotel and restaurant. (We lunched here before meeting with Anselme; it was fabulous.) This came about because Anselme and Corinne were scouting out new cellar space. They found the cellars of a defunct Champagne house, Bricout-Delbeck, which had closed in 2003. The large town house above the cellars seemed ideal for a hotel and restaurant, so they pursued this project.

All the base wines are fermented in wood (or, more recently, terracotta, above, which Anselme has just begun using with the 2015 vintage). Juice goes straight from the press either to barrel or terracotta. ‘For me it is not possible to make wine where the juice hasn’t been in oak.’

The sediments are resuspended and all the solids go to barrels. ‘I don’t lose any sediments: it is not allowed,’ says Anselme. There is no malolactic fermentation here. Interestingly, no yeast is added, even at tirage stage. At the end of alcoholic fermentation Anselme takes juice and freezes it. The yeast sleeps and four weeks before bottling I take it out and restart it.

Anselme is quite poetic and philosophical about his wines. He describes the wine making process as a type of ‘burning’. ‘200g of solids produce 10 g at the end: it is burned. You feel the mineral salts in the mouth.’

He continues. ‘Roots take up water with mineral salts at the beginning. Then it becomes sap. Then photosynthesis produces organic products. If I want a mineral part, I burn the organic part, and after the organic parts burn the rest comes from the soil. I am left with the mineral part. It is like a whisky maker; the most important element is the water.’

‘Put cement outside and after 2 years small plants grow on it. But if you put the cement into water, it doesn’t dissolve. I start as dust and end as dust. It is the same with wine.’

‘When I plant a vine at a place the roots take a specific water and produce a specific sap,’ he explains. ‘It is not better.’ I think by this he means that the sap produced by the plant being in a specific site is unique to that place, and that rather than finding that one place is better than another, it is just true to that place.

Anselme is full of interesting thoughts. ‘For me Champagne is not the best sparkling wine. There are no best sparkling wines. When there are many people, who is the best? Each personality is its own. There is no universal best. The most important element is where the product burns. If it burns at one place, the characteristics stay in one place.’

Here’s another one. ‘For me, gastronomy is just in the mouth, it’s not smell. If we add products, we change the smell. It is in the mouth.’

I asked him about whether it’s possible to taste the place in a wine. What is the influence of the soil? ‘When I taste water with sodium it is salty, with magnesium it is bitter, with calcium it is fresh and with potassium it is heavy.’

‘For me, chalk is a very specific stone. It is calcareous, but not Jurassic, like Burgundy. Jurassic is crystallized calcium carbonate. Chalk is phytoplankton with microscopic rings. Champagne comes from the chalk. I feel the same taste in Andalucia with the albariza. I feel a saltiness.’

Anselme also talks about intervention in winemaking. ‘The most important thing is not what I do but what I don’t do,’ he says. ‘If I don’t work it is a more natural product, if I work it is a normalized product.’

He uses sulfur dioxide where it is needed, but not at pressing, where he just uses dry ice. He’ll use sulfites if the skins are very thin or there is botrytis. He used some in 2014 because of the Drosophila problem.

And he also thinks that there’s something about ‘northern’ and ‘southern’ philosophies and approaches. ‘There are two schools in Europe, north and south. The north is blended, and the most important person is the chef du cave. But for Burgundy and Barolo the most important person is the winegrower. If I want to buy a car, I want a good resistant car, economic, beautiful. A German car is good. A product of the north. But perhaps I hear the Ferrari or Maserati engine and I buy it. For some quality is objective, for others it is subjective.’

‘For me, there is no winemaking,’ says Anselme. ‘I am just a butler, I am not a boss.’

Champagne Jacques Selosse Initiale NV France
This comes from the foot of the slope, where there is more fine clay. This wine is from 2009/8/7 and is Chardonnay from Avize, Cramant and Oger, dosage 1.3 g/l. Disgorged December 2015. Intense, bold and toasty. Nutty with fine spices. Powerful, rich and concentrated on the palate with a spicy matchstick edge and some toasty richness. Mineral, salty and intense with pear, ripe apple and citrus fruit. Incredible presence to this wine with is fine, persistent and complex. 96/100

Champagne Jacques Selosse VO NV France
This stands for Version Originale, and it’s from poorer soils higher up the slope, based on vintages 2009/8/7. ‘For me this is the chalk speaking: the language of chalk,’ says Anselme Selosse. Dosage is 0.7 g/litre. Very fine aromatic nose with lovely citrus fruits, herbs, ripe apples. So linear and pure. Lemony, intense and mineral with great acidity. There are lots of dimensions here. ‘For this wine there is no smile,’ says Anselme. ‘It’s Cistercian, not Benedictine.’ So fine and linear with amazing structure. 97/100 (04/16)

Champagne Jacques Selosse ‘Les Carelles’ Le Mesnil Sur Oger Grand Cru NV France
This is a blend including all vintages from 2003-2009. It’s from south-facing slopes. Complex nose of toast, lemons and herbs, with some citrus peel and fine spices. The palate is structured and powerful with taut toast, spice and citrus notes. Pithy and linear on the finish with great acidity and some matchstick and smoke notes. Very intense, with some pithy bitterness. Very savoury, structured and gastronomic. 95/100

Champagne Jacques Selosse ‘Sous Le Mont’ Mareuil sur Ay Grand Cru NV France
Contains all the vintages from 2004-2009. Zero dosage. Full yellow colour, with a distinctive nutty, pear fruit nose. Sweet with a touch of melon. Powerful, lively, distinctive palate is fresh with minerals, lemons and a zippy, tart, bitter finish. Anselme says that the bitterness comes from the magnesium carbonate in the soils of this plot, which makes it very good with duck. Muscular but with some sweet fruit, combining the sweet and savoury to good effect. 95/

Champagne Jacques Selosse Vintage 2005 France
Disgorged in December 2014, dosage 0.7 g/litre. Concentrated with bold, intense pear and peach fruit. This has a broad, smooth, linear sweet fruit core. Quite luxurious with real intensity and depth. Sweet pear and white peach fruit. Such a drive to this wine. Linear and fine with amazing focus and precision. 97/100

Champagne Jacques Selosse Vintage 2002 France
Along with 1996, 1999 and 2013, 2002 was one of the vintages where no sulfites were added. Disgorged 2 years ago. Full yellow colour. Notes of nuts and honey on the nose with some ripe apples. Very lively and linear with fresh acidity and a keen citrus drive: very keen, lemony and bright with a juicy quality. Mineral, too, with a savoury edge. Lovely wine. 95/100

Champagne Jacques Selosse Vintage 2003 France
Very intense, sweet nose with fudge and toffee hints. The palate has sweet toffee notes but also lively, dense citrus and pear fruit. Salty, with some lovely nutty notes. Very rich but still has complexity and some freshness, with real intensity. 93/100

Jacques Selosse ‘Il Etait une Fois’ NV France
‘Once upon a time’: this is a Chardonnay that’s made with 40-50 g sugar, fortified to 18% alcohol and then left not topped up for 11 years. Sugar level has risen by concentration to 157 g/l. Smoky, mineral and intense with sweetness and some spicy complexity. Notes of tar and raisins. So complex. 93/100

Wines tasted: 04/16

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See also: a review of the full set of Selosse Lieu Dits (Jan 2020)