Jacques Selosse Brut Rosé
95 points - Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, August 2019
From a bottle disgorged in December 2018, Selosse's NV Brut Rosé is based on his V.O. blend, with the addition of Pinot Noir from his friend Francis Egly. Bursting with scents of dried fruits, white cherries, beeswax and spices, the wine is full-bodied, broad and fleshy, with Pinot Noir phenolics only amplifying the chalky, mineral signature that defines the V.O.—making for a remarkably vinous, gastronomic Champagne.
A morning tasting with Anselme Selosse provides material not just for a mere paragraph, but for an essay—something I intend to devote to this influential vigneron in the near future. In the course of a wide-ranging conversation, Selosse recounted his story: "My first harvest, from 1.18 hectares of vines, was the 1974 vintage, and I sold it in November 1978 for the equivalent of 3.70 euros per bottle. It wasn't easy to sell!" He then describes how spending time in Burgundy inspired him to work his soils, reduce his yields and attempt to produce terroir-driven Champagnes. "I'm interested in making small quantities of very specific wines for certain drinkers and certain occasions," he tells me, adding that while he admires the prosperity and plenty that capitalism has created, he regrets its tendency to efface strong regional identities and tastes. "I have no interest in making Champagne that appeals to everyone." Over the years, Selosse has increasingly come to focus on what he describes as the "one gram of mineral substance in a liter of grape juice, not the 250 grams of organic matter. Scientists say the vines don't take minerals from the soil, but no one has ever been able to explain to me where that one gram of mineral salts comes from." From this perspective, biological aging and oxidation, informed by a relationship with the wines of Spain—especially the biological maturation of Jerez and the long élevage of Rioja—which began when Selosse first visited the Iberian peninsula in 1972, become ways to "burn away" the organic matter, leaving only the terroir-derived mineral residue that interests him. For the same reason, he privileges texture over aroma. "In the old days, with the tastevin, texture was all-important; with the advent of the ISO tasting glass, the way we make wine changed." And in any case, Selosse has smoked Lucky Strikes since his youth. A thorough exposition of this philosophy, which would shock most oenologists—as it does some of Champagne's technocrat commentators— would run to more than a thousand words, so that will have to await a more extensive article. But what does this mean at a technical level? Selosse leaves eight to ten liters headspace in his barrels and tops them up further as fermentation subsides. At the end of November or early in December, they're fully topped up, and after that, he leaves them alone. Since his cellar, thanks to fans, remains cooler than the outside environment but warms and cools following its cycle, a layer of flor develops in spring as the cellar warms. Thereafter, Selosse and his team smell the barrels: any that are oxidative are stirred, reintroducing the heavy lees into suspension to return the wine to a more reductive state, and any that are reduced, Selosse degasses with the same dodine. Throughout their élevage, the barrels' bungs are only loosely closed, as Selosse says he wants the wines to breathe. For all the ink that has been spilled about Selosse's "oxidative" style, to my knowledge these details—which explain a great deal about how the wines taste—have never hitherto been published. Given Selosse's avowed aspiration to make specific wines for a small clientele, how is it that they've become so internationally sought after? The charisma of the man himself must be acknowledged, of course. But the wines' sheer texture and plenitude are striking, whether on a first encounter or a decade later. While Selosse has plenty of admirers and even several imitators, there's nothing like his wines in Champagne. And my colleague Luis Gutierez even contends that umami-rich biologically aged wines are quite literally addictive. What is clear is that, while the grower Champagne movement has had its other luminaries—who are often consigned to the shadows, no one could deny Anselme Selosse pride of place in its pantheon. If Champagne is an exciting region today, no one is more responsible for that than he. The 2018 vintage represented Anselme Selosse's 45th—and last—harvest. Since June 12, it's his son Guillaume who has taken the reins. What will Selosse do in retirement? "I'm going to make soap," he says, "using oil from grape seeds and potash from burnt vine prunings." Even in retirement, in other words, he's still privileging the mineral over the organic.
- William Keeley
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