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Every decade or so, a winemaker comes along who, through the force of his ideas, and the brilliance of his work, has the power to change the course of wine history. Anselme Selosse is such an individual—and the man most responsible for the revolution that's changing Champagne for the better.
Since taking over Champagne Jacques Selosse in 1980, Anselme has used the uncompromising brilliance of his wines-as well as no small amount of charisma—to challenge Champagne's old definitions for excellence. If ten or twenty years from now, small, quality-driven growers have finally taken their share of the power—and the big houses have fully embraced the ideas of low yields, chemical-free vineyards and terroir-based wines—Anselme will deserve much of the credit.
Anselme came of age in the 1970s, a time when the Champagne industry was famously, and pervasively, indifferent to fruit quality. A few big producers called the shots, and small growers wielded little power. Nowhere else in France were "brands" so dominant, with fruit bought and sold as a commodity, and with the town of origin as a the sole determinant of price. In this system, growers had no incentive for lower yields, or labor-intensive organic viticulture, and vineyard work generally was abysmal.
It took a different perspective to understand what was wrong, and Anselme was the man to provide it. He had studied oenology not in Champagne, but in Burgundy, where he was introduced to such greats as Coche-Dury, Lafon and Leflaive. There he also learned the kind of commitment needed to produce profound, individualistic wines from great terroirs.
In 1974, Anselme completed his studies and began to develop his ideas at his father's estate, centered in Avize on the Côte de Blancs. Six years later the domaine became his, and he threw himself into radical change, dramatically reducing yields and farming organically. Working with his wife Corinne, he adopted ideas that were starting to become accepted in other parts of France but were still considered heretical by Champagne's establishment.
Perhaps Anselme's most important insight was that to make profound Champagne, you must start with a great wine for the base. Fortunately for him, he was blessed with spectacular grand cru vineyard holdings in Avize, Cramant, and Oger.
In fact, while much has been made of his winemaking methods, Anselme's emphasis on viticulture and terroir may have been his greatest advance. He is one of the world's most profound thinkers about the relationship between healthy soils and the wines that spring from them. With low yields and fastidious viticulture, he is able to harvest fruit that is not only Champagne's most physiologically ripe, but also its most expressive.
In the winery, Selosse defies convention by using only indigenous yeasts for fermentations and by minimizing the use of SO2. He ferments and raises his wines in wood barrels (less than 20% new) and leaves them on their fine lees for extended periods.
Such techniques may explain why his wines have such towering quality, but they cannot explain why no one else has been able to duplicate the elusive "Selosse" flavor profile or the remarkable texture his wines exhibit. This is surely a tribute to the man, as well as to his viticulture.
Anselme's questing intelligence has been testing Champagne's limits for more than 25 years. This profound body of knowledge must account for some of the Selosse magic.
Note: Many commentators have called Selosse's wines "Burgundy with bubbles," and, like Burgundy, the wines benefit from extended cellaring and/or aeration before serving, and they should not be served too cold.
The New York Times: Taking Champagne Back to Its Roots
Champagne Tasting: Jacques Selosse - La Cote Faron
Rare Wine Co Blog: Jacques Selosse: Out of the Wilderness
Sharon's Wine Blog: Jacques Selosse Champagne: a four-alarm fire for the senses
One Brilliant Bottle: Domaine Jacques Selosse
Jacques Selosse Facebook