Sourced from two parcels in Avize, Selosse’s 2003 Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs evinces aromas of malted barley, toasted nuts, mocha and sweat, as such quite recognizably of its torrid vintage. On the palate, the torrefactive and animal dimensions are met by a surprising sense of primary juiciness, even though it’s difficult to pin down a particular fruit, though mirabelle is suggested. Full and lees-endowed but in no way heavy – indeed, there’s an uncanny sense of buoyancy – this finishes with profound length, incorporating suggestions of chalk, if not the mouthwatering salinity that I associate with most Selosse wines and with Avize in general. Its author opines that not just its relative levity but also its sense of structure and clarity surprise him based on his expectations at the time of harvest and when the wine was young. “I started picking on the fifth of September,” he recalls, “yet the potential alcohol level was not really that high, – 11.5 to the upper 11’s – due to repeated blockage (i.e. shut-down) of the vine metabolism.” I suspect this will prove fascinating as well as versatile over at least the next 3-4 years. (The bottle I tasted was disgorged in February and went to market this autumn.)
Anselme Selosse has managed to become a legend at a by no means advanced age and more importantly an inspiration and mentor to stylistically innovative and environmentally-conscious wine growers over several decades, across France and beyond. It’s easy to forget how revolutionary were this grower’s terroir-centric approach, viticultural rigor, and laissez-faire attitude toward vinification when he emerged on the Champagne scene after completing formal studies and returning to his family’s estate in the mid-1970s. Nor are Selosse’s wines about to stop being controversial, because not every taster will accept the complexity of long cask maturation including oxidative- and flor-influence in their Champagne and as thought-provoking as these wines are, the Selosse approach guarantees that some of his vinous offspring will walk more on the wild side or present an aesthetically less satisfying whole than will others. “I haven’t got a check-list,” he remarks, “and neither has nature.”
Selosse is the iconic representative of an approach no longer considered unusual thanks to his example, and characterized by respecting one’s viticultural principles, including such as arise from concern for sustainability and integrity, striving to permit each vineyard and parcel of vines to most fully express itself but – certain inspired flights of fancy no doubt excepted – imposing only minimal if any stylistic restraints on one’s wine, whether those based on perceptions of market demand or even personal aesthetic vision. In keeping with this approach – not to mention with the degree to which demand exceeds supply (horribly exacerbated earlier this year by a massive theft of stock from his cellar) – most of my time with Selosse this summer was spent tasting his fascinating, at times mesmerizing young 2012s and 2011s out of a melange of barriques of various age (from classic Burgundy tonneliers, but including since 2005 some Acacia) and discussing how they reflect the character of the 47 parcels in which they originate and I tasted a (numerically!) relatively modest subset of finished wines currently or soon to be in the marketplace.