Jacques Selosse “V.O.” Champagne

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For so many, Selosse represents the unicorn experience of Champagne. Few producers have attained similar cult status. But his wines are divisive due to their oxidative style. I fall on the ‘love’ side of the camp, and find, pay for, and open at least one bottle each year. The first two of those feats has become an increasing challenge, but a wine geek treasure hunt I look forward to.

Vinous Love or Oxidative Hate?

Selosse’s Champagne is confounding. It is so much so that highly respected writers have completely opposite, contradictory opinions about the wines.

Tom Stevenson detests the wines – even after extensive tastings. As he stated in the World of Fine Wine: “Although there is no doubt in my mind about Anselme’s passion, or the potential of his terroir, or indeed the quality of the grapes he produces every year, the wines do not live up to either his abilities or his terroir. They are too oxidative, too aldehydic, and too oaky, lacking in freshness, finesse, and vivacity.” Harsh criticism, but there are others who agree.

Stevenson goes on further to say that it is not oxidativeness per se that is the problem, but the degree of it. He finds all of his wines except the Exquise to be marred by overt aldehydic characteristics.

In complete contrast to Stevenson, Peter Liem describes Selosse Champagne as extremely “vinous”, which is wine geek terminology for dense and concentrated flavour from grapes rather than oak. He has also said, “I don’t necessarily think that Selosse’s wines are overly oxidative, especially the wines of today.” “Of the comments against Selosse’s wines—that they’re too oaky, over-oxidized, overly aldehydic—I find that these apply more often to the Initiale than to the other wines.”

For another perspective, Andrew Jefford, in his 2002 “The New France”, wrote: “The ‘madman of Avize’ may turn out to be the ‘prophet of Avize’ – by which I mean that it is hard to think of a single individual in Champagne today whose work (though by no means uniformly admired) is more influential than that of Anselme Selosse. Fastidious viticulture (which happens to be biodynamic); ripeness levels previously thought unattainable in the region; radically non-interventionist methods; the use of a wide variety of wood containers and long ageing (the 1995s are to go on sale in 2004) are some of the lodestars of the methode Selosse.”.

All these words are true. Champagne needed Selosse. Its vast diversity of grower-producers focusing on terroir over brand today owe their legacy mostly to Selosse. Even those producers who do not make wine in the Selosse style have benefitted from his boldness. Wines from producers like Marie-Courtin and Bouchard that push ripe fruit over oxidative or blended styles also owe a great deal to Selosse, who was the key champion of improved vineyard practices, higher quality fruit and greater ripeness in the 1990s.

Terroir over Vintage

Selossse makes a range of Champagnes in completely distinct styles. The Initiale is the largest production wine (⅔ of total production) and the easiest to find. It is a blend of three vintages of Chardonnay from Avize, Oger and Cramant.

The Version Originale is similar in construction to the Initiale, also being a blend of three vintages of Avize, Oger and Cramant Chardonnay, but with fruit sources from older vintages and vines planted on hillside rather than the lower slope (which is used for Initiale)

Substance is Selosse’s “Solera” Champagne, made from a large range of blended vintages dating back to 1986.

There are also single vineyard and vintage wines, the high dosage Exquise, and a very small quantity highly sought after Rose.

Selosse’s main focus is to express terroir by eliminating vintage as a variable. This is why he blends vintages and why he invented the solera style for Substance. It is also why he focuses so much on farming and fruit quality – looking for massive fruit intensity that expresses the “minerality” of the calcareous soils.

For me the V.O. is the go-to wine. It is not as stunning at the Substance, but sells for half the price. It is also far superior to the Initiale and provides a true insight into the Selosse philosophy with consistency.

Have you ever had Selosse? If so, is it love or hate?

Excellent+
£159.80 at the Sampler, London, UK
$200-$230USD at various US outlets

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