Champagne Jacques Selosse Retrospective Tasting & Dinner


I was thrilled to host this intimate Selosse tasting and dinner as part of the special events we are doing around our ten-year anniversary. Over the last few years, the Selosse Champagnes have become so coveted that the opportunity to taste a number of them side by side is quite rare. It was a real pleasure to share the wines with a small group of Vinous subscribers who traveled from all over the world to be part of this magical evening.

I would like to thank Gramercy Tavern’s Executive Chef Michael Anthony and his team for preparing a superb menu. Director of Beverage Erin Healy and her staff did a fabulous job ensuring that the wine service was impeccable.

The room is set in anticipation of this remarkable dinner.

A Brief History

To say Anselme Selosse has been the most influential grower and winemaker in Champagne over the last fifty years would be a massive understatement. After completing his studies in Burgundy, Selosse took over his family’s domaine in 1980 and began to deconstruct traditional Champagne methods and rebuild them with his new vision. Selosse introduced several concepts that were once considered radical in Champagne. These include an emphasis on sustainable farming, low yields in the vineyards, picking at higher sugars, fermentation in small barrels, minimal dosage at bottling and variations on perpetual reserves and solera-style blends, all of which are quite common today. Along the way, Selosse became a huge influence and point of reference for pretty much every young producer embarking on their own path. It was the early days of what became known as grower Champagne. 

Interestingly, Italy was one of the first markets to believe in Selosse. As a result, Italy historically received among the largest allocations of the wines. For many years, Selosse could be found even in the humblest of trattorias. I discovered these wines while working in Italy as an expat in the early 2000s. My favorites were the Rosé and Contraste, known today as La Côte Faron. Back then a bottle of Selosse was a pricey, yet affordable, luxury. Despite his renown elsewhere, Selosse was out of the US market for many years, until 2009, when importer Mannie Berk re-introduced the wines with a series of tastings in New York. Today, the Selosse Champagnes need no introduction, in the United States or anywhere, for that matter. These are among the most coveted bottles in the world.

Today the domaine is run by son Guillaume Selosse, although Anselme is never far away from the action. Guillaume Selosse’s first vintage Champagne was the 2007, which was only released a few years ago. Generational transitions always take a certain amount of time, but that is especially true in Champagne, where wines are often released many years after they were made. Needless to say, it will be fascinating to see how things evolve here in the coming years and decades.

Tasting through the bottles to ensure they are all sound, just in case. I typically write my impressions of the wines before events start.

The Tasting

For this tasting, I wanted to make sure we hit all the main wines so that guests could truly experience the full range. We started with the Rosé, then tasted three disgorgements each of the Initial and V.O. From there, we moved into two flights spanning all six lieux-dits. Next, we took a side trip to Piedmont to taste two Barolos with the main course. I was inspired by a tasting I moderated about five years ago in Barolo featuring about half a dozen growers from Champagne and Piedmont as they compared their two regions. We then tasted three disgorgements of Substance before closing with the 2006 Vintage, the last vintage Anselme Selosse made before handing the reins over to his son Guillaume.

Reception: The Iconic Rosé

· NV Brut Rosé (Disgorged: April 16, 2018)

Chef’s Seasonal Selection of Canapés

I was blown away by the NV Brut Rosé, not so much for its quality and personality, both of which I expected, but by its freshness, considering it was disgorged a few years ago. Bright citrus, floral and cranberry race across the palate in an airy, weightless Rosé that delivers all the goods, and then some. It’s a gorgeous wine to enjoy with canapés to kick off this remarkable dinner. The blend is almost all Chardonnay, with just a few drops of still Pinot that is purchased from Francis Egly. Disgorged: April 16, 2018. We are off to the races.

A fascinating opportunity to compare three disgorgements of Initial and V.0.

Dinner Menu

Initial...An Introduction to Selosse

· NV Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Initial (base 2013, Disgorged: April 19, 2019)

· NV Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Initial (base 2014, Disgorged: May 11, 2020)

· NV Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Initial (base 2015, Disgorged: May 12, 2021)

Citrus Cured Arctic Char

This opening flight of Initial across several disgorgements is just stellar. Initial is, for lack of a better term, the entry-level wine in the Selosse range, although I think of it more of a Champagne that emphasizes a bit more citrus and mineral freshness than some of the other wines. Initial is a blend from vineyards in Avize, Cramant and Oger composed of a base vintage, which accounts for at least 65% of the blend, plus reserve wines from the prior two vintages that are aged in cask and then blended together just before bottling. As a general rule of thumb, the base vintage is seven years younger than the year of disgorgement.

The NV Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Initial (base 2013) is, surprisingly, the freshest and most vibrant of the three wines in this flight despite being the oldest disgorgement. It is all citrus, floral and mineral notes, with bright acids and tons of linear energy. Disgorged: April 19, 2019. The NV Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Initial (base 2014) is, by comparison to the 2019 release, quite opulent and ample in feel. Dried pear, spice, chamomile and lightly oxidative notes abound. This is a terrific example of the Selosse house style. Superb. Disgorged: May 11, 2020. The NV Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Initial (base 2015) is the richest of the three wines in this flight. Opulent and flamboyant to the core, it offers an exotic mélange of apricot, lemon confit, tropical fruit and oxidative overtones, all in an open-knit, forward style that displays tons of both immediacy and overall appeal. Disgorged: May 12, 2021.

V.O. Version Originale: A Step Up

· NV Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru V.O. Version Originale (base 2011, Disgorged: July 29, 2018)

· NV Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru V.O. Version Originale (base 2014, Disgorged: January 8, 2020)

· NV Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru V.O. Version Originale (base 2016, Disgorged: April 8, 2021)

Corn Agnolotti, poached lobster, brown butter & ginger

The V.O. Version Originale is a step up from the Initial, both literally and figuratively. It emerges from mid-slope parcels Avize and Cramant. Lower yields in these parcels produce a richer Champagne vis-a-vis the Initial, despite the higher elevation of the plots that go into the blend. Here, too, the base vintage is seven years younger than the year of disgorgement although, in the past, the base vintage was eight years older than the year of disgorgement.

The NV Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru V.O. Version Originale (base 2011) is stellar. Transparent and incredibly classy, the 2018 release is wonderfully delicate yet also very deep. Lemon peel, dried pear, chamomile and mint all grace this vibrant, taut edition of the V.O. Disgorged: July 29, 2018. For my taste, the NV Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru V.O. Version Originale (base 2014) is the star of this flight. Power, breadth and energy all come together in a V.O. that delivers the goods, big time. White pepper, crushed flowers and a whole range of mineral-driven accents lift the fruit in a V.O. that sizzles with tension. Superb. Disgorged: January 8, 2020. The NV Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru V.O. Version Originale (base 2016) is immediately opulent. Pear, almond, chamomile, orange peel and dried flowers build in a creamy, resonant Blanc de Blancs that builds with palate-staining intensity and depth. This is just remarkable. Disgorged: April 8, 2021.

Corn Agnolotti, poached lobster, brown butter & ginger is one of the highlights of the menu.

The Lieux Dits: Cramant, Avize & Le Mesnil Sur Oger

· NV Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Cramant Chemin de Châlons (base 2013, Disgorged: February 17, 2020)

· NV Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Avize Les Chantereines (base 2013, Disgorged: February 17, 2020)

· NV Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Le Mesnil Sur Oger Les Carelles (base 2013, Disgorged: February 4, 2020)

Swordfish, squash, shell beans & pepper

Next, we survey two flights of lieux-dits Champagnes, covering all six of the single-parcel bottlings. These wines are built on a base vintage, plus a perpetual reserve of the preceding years. The two sets of wines are blended in a large tank just prior to bottling. The perpetual reserve cask is re-filled, and what remains is bottled as that year’s release. Thus, the production of the lieux-dits varies from year to year. The concept behind these wines is to erase the marker of vintage. “When everything changes, what remains is a terroir,” Anselme Selosse has told me many times.

The NV Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Cramant Chemin de Châlons (base 2013) sizzles with tension and energy. Crushed rocks, mint, white flowers and citrus peel are beautifully delineated. The Chemin de Châlons is all nerve from start to finish. I love the vibrancy here. Selosse owns 0.35 hectares in Chemin de Châlons, a south-facing slope marked by light soils over a bed of clay. Disgorged: February 17, 2020. The NV Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Avize Les Chantereines (base 2013) shows all the breadth and resonance of Avize. Dried pear, ginger, spice, chamomile and a touch of oak all meld together. The Avize is a bit more oxidative in style than the other Blanc de Blancs in this flight, but that works quite well with the wine’s natural intensity and textural feel. Gorgeous. Selosse has two parcels in Chantereines. The oldest parcel, measuring 0.31 hectares, was planted in 1929. A second, slightly larger parcel (0.45 hectares) has recently been replanted and is not currently in production. Disgorged: February 17, 2020. With that, we move into the NV Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Le Mesnil Sur Oger Les Carelles (base 2013), which is the star of the first flight. A wine of incomparable elegance, the Carelles possesses mind-blowing elegance and precision from start to finish. There’s almost no impression of mousse, as the bubbles are so beautifully woven into the wine’s fabric. Hints of lemon confit, white flowers, spice, graphite and light honey build into a stunning crescendo of aromas, flavors and textures. The Carelles is simply magnificent. That’s all there is to it. There are two adjacent parcels in Mesnil, one south-facing, the other with a more easterly exposure. Total surface area is 0.85 hectares, although only 0.45 are in production at the moment because of replanting. Disgorged: February 4, 2020.

Tasting all six lieux-dits side by side is an amazing opportunity to compare expressions of place.

The Lieux Dits: Mareuil Sur Aÿ, Aÿ & Ambonnay

· NV Extra Brut Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru Mareuil Sur Aÿ Sous Le Mont (base 2013, Disgorged: January 18, 2020)

· NV Extra Brut Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru Aÿ La Côte Faron (base 2013, Disgorged: February 19, 2020)

· NV Extra Brut Grand Cru Ambonnay Le Bout du Clos (base 2013, Disgorged: February 10, 2020)

Roasted Duck Breast & Bacon, Carrots, Escarole & Sesame

Pinot Noir is next, with three stellar wines. The NV Extra Brut Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru Mareuil Sur Aÿ Sous Le Mont (base 2013) is gorgeous. Aromatic and savory, the Sous Le Mont shows its trademark energy and nervy tension from the very first taste. There’s terrific precision and crystalline purity here. Hints of chalk, white pepper and cranberry add notable brightness. The Sous Le Mont is perfumed, light on its feet and wonderfully expressive. Sous Le Mont emerges from a tiny 0.36 hectare, east-facing, windy site adjacent to Clos des Goisses. It is usually the last site Selosse harvests. Disgorged: January 18, 2020. The NV Extra Brut Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru Aÿ La Côte Faron (base 2013) shows all the power, breadth and radiance that are such signatures of Aÿ, but tempered by the freshness of the 2013 base vintage. Graphite, chalk, dried herbs and mint are some of the many nuances that develop with time in the glass. What a stunning Champagne this is. La Côte Faron emerges from a tiny parcel measuring just 0.24 hectares with a southern exposure. Formerly known as Contraste (for the contrast of intense wind and sun here), it is the original prototype for the lieu-dit series. Disgorged: February 19, 2020. The NV Extra Brut Grand Cru Ambonnay Le Bout du Clos (base 2013) is magical. This parcel is 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay, and it is the Chardonnay that really seems to drive the wine’s aromatic profile and overall vibrancy. Effusive, bright and intensely saline, the Bout du Clos offers an incredibly distinctive expression of Ambonnay. All the elements are so beautifully balanced in a Champagne that has no beginning and no end. Le Bout du Clos lies on the bottom of the hill, next to the Clos de Bouzy, on white soils over clay. This east-facing parcel was planted in 1980 and measures a little over 0.33 hectares. Disgorged: February 10, 2020.

I have been doing dinners long enough to know that no matter how much our guests enjoy Champagne, at some point they also crave a glass of red wine with the main courses. I picked two Barolos from domaines that share similar philosophies with Selosse and also deliberately chose wines that would be complementary to the menu and evening rather than stars. Even so, both Barolos were stellar.

The 2011 Barolo from Bartolo Mascarello is such a surprise. Bright, translucent red, the 2011 immediately impresses with its captivating freshness and precision. There’s so much vibrancy. Given the warm, dry year, I was expecting to see a Barolo with some early signs of maturity, but the 2011 is incredibly young, not to mention an absolute delight. Time in the glass does start to reveal a bit less polish in the tannins relative to the very finest vintages, but that is expected in a very challenging vintage. This is a terrific showing. Burlotto’s 2016 Barolo Acclivi, from vineyards in Verduno, offers a captivating mix of rose petal, cinnamon, lavender and blue/purplish fruit. The aromatics alone are beguiling for their exotic complexity, but everything about the 2016 is so appealing. Although a young wine with plenty of life ahead, the 2016 Acclivi is absolutely exquisite right now.

The Selosse cellar, Avize.

Substance: Quintessential Selosse

· NV Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Substance (Disgorged: December 4, 2008; July 9, 2018; July 31, 2019)

Substance is arguably Selosse’s most iconic wine, as it encapsulates so many of his core beliefs. In essence, Substance is a solera-style, multi-vintage blend that goes back to 1986. The term solera is most often used loosely in Champagne to refer to wines made with what is more accurately described as a perpetual reserve in which the wine from a base vintage is blended with the reserve wines of all previous vintages. As noted above, Selosse’s lieu-dit Champagnes are made with this approach, and the blending is done just prior to bottling. For Substance, Selosse employs a true solera approach, with two levels of reserve wines (or criaderas), one aged in cask and the other in tank. The youngest vintage accounts for about 22% of the volume and is aged together with the reserve wines rather than blended in at the end. Among other things, this means that the influence of the most recent vintage is not perceptible. Substance then spends about six years in bottle prior to being disgorged and finished with very low dosage. Vineyard sites are Les Chantereines, a steep, east-facing slope with clay-rich soils and Le Mont de Cramant, a south-facing, hillside site on chalky soils, both in Cramant. Readers who would like to read more about Substance might enjoy revisiting my article Jacques Selosse: A Study of Substance published in 2017.

The NV Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Substance is a wine for Selosse lovers to revel in. The combination of the two-level solera and post-disgorgement bottle age make for a wild, exotic Champagne redolent of orange peel, hazelnut, dried flowers and honeyed, oxidative overtones. Complex and yet with good freshness for its age, the 2008 disgorgement is absolutely magical. It is also textbook Selosse in every way. Disgorged: December 4, 2008. The NV Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Substance is stunning. It possesses phenomenal balance in the way it marries gently evolved nuances with a good bit of freshness. Lemon confit, dried flowers, chamomile, mint and spice lend complexity to this decidedly nuanced, almost delicate, edition of Substance. Disgorged: July 9, 2018. The NV Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Substance is a powerful, dense Champagne with slightly angular contours that need time to soften. Lemon confit, marzipan, dried flowers, chamomile and light reductive notes fill out the layers. I would prefer to give this release a few more years in bottle, as there is a bit of burliness that hopefully will soften with time. Disgorged: July 31, 2019.

Surveying the complete lineup on this remarkable evening.

The Changing of the Guard…Part One

· 2006 Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Millésime (Disgorged: February 6, 2018)

American Farmstead Cheese

In my view, the 2006 Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Millésime is one of Anselme Selosse’s greatest wines. It offers a captivating interplay of energy, power and structure. Although still very young, the 2006 can certainly be approached today. There is a feeling of explosive energy in the 2006 that is impossible to miss. Citrus confit, white flowers, salt and bright acids build as this vertical, richly-textured Champagne shows off its considerable pedigree. The 2006 is the last vintage Anselme Selosse made entirely on his own, and the last vintage made with 100% Chardonnay from Les Chantereines and Malandries du Midi, the two historic plots that have long informed the vintage wine since 1975. Beginning in 2007, Guillaume Selosse, Anselme’s son, gave the vintage wine his own twist by conceiving it as a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir taken across a wider collection of parcels. But that is a story for another day. The 2006 is an epic Champagne and a great way to conclude this memorable evening. Disgorged: February 6, 2018.

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