Monday, April 27, 2009

On Selosse, Substance and Sensuality

Mr. Asimov has written eloquently on several occasions, both in The Times and at his blog The Pour, about the rarefied pleasure of experiencing the Champagnes of Anselme Selosse. Foolishly having passed on an opportunity to drink Selosse last year, I finally rectified the situation just a few nights ago. It was the kindness of strangers that made it possible. My clients, for whom Selosse’s “Substance” served as an aperitif, were generous enough to send me home with the remaining half-bottle or so at the end of a long night spent serving many big name wines. For that I am indebted to them, as I cannot and therefore do not buy $200+ bottles of wine. Were I to, though, this might be the one.

Champagne Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut “Substance,” Jacques Selosse (Anselme Selosse) NV
$225-250. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Rare Wine Company, Sonoma, CA.

If I’d had my druthers, I would have decanted “Substance” at that dinner party. Pouring it straight into flutes didn’t give the wine enough chance to come out from under its bottle aromas or to show its full breadth. That is not to say it wasn’t immediately enticing – it was – but rather that it immediately hinted at greater stuff to come. First impressions were of richness and maturity, a partly oxidative nose backed up by scents and flavors of deeply yeasty bread and ripe orchard fruits. Between my work and the wines to come, it passed by far too quickly.

It was on the second day that I really got the chance to experience more of the wine’s full spectrum. Poured in a white wine glass, it appeared well on its way to tranquility, though appearances deceived as its fine mousse never dissipated over the course of the next three hours. The larger glass made it much easier to appreciate the wine’s color as well, not so much the burnished golden tone of mature Champagne as it was the radiant hue of light peach or apricot flesh. There was still an oxidative aromatic note, one that bolstered rather than diminished the wine’s complexity. Brioche, mocha, lightly roasted coffee and hazelnut scents wafted from the glass. Incredibly youthful and fresh on the palate, the wine’s finish lasted for minutes, starting at the tip of the tongue and leaving a lasting impression all the way down the gullet.

Given my mentions of maturity above, it’s important to note that this was actually a recently disgorged bottle. “Substance” takes on its mature notes not so much via bottle aging (at least not in this case) as via its production methods. It is a solera method Champagne, made up of a constantly evolving and growing blend of wines from every vintage since 1986, when Anselme Selosse first started his solera system. The picture above (borrowed from The Rare Wine Company’s website) is Selosse’s own 2004 schematic of the Substance solera system. In Anselme’s view, this method of blending wines from multiple years, the good with the theoretically not so good, wipes away the vagaries of vintage and instead focuses entirely on the terroir of his Chardonnay vineyards in Avize.

With time in the glass and the approach of cellar temperature, the wine just got prettier and prettier, more and more detailed, calling into focus the fact that Selosse works first and foremost with great fruit. The wine’s minerality and vinosity, too, became more apparent. Chamomile, orange zest, toasted almonds, peach butter and spicy minerality – it was all there. Just smelling the empty glass between pours there was a lingering aroma of white sands, gentle surf and seashells. Pour a touch more and there was tarte tatin, nutmeg and yet more profound minerality.

What I liked most about the wine, as if all the above weren’t enough, was its texture. Simultaneously delicate, powerful and amazingly deft, it was voluptuous and creamy at first feel, chewy and edgy at the next, yet all along I could sense every nuance. Nothing was glossed over or wiped away by undue opulence. Even the wine’s wood influence was subtle and elegant, lending an undercurrent of buttered toast to the whole experience.

This was as profound a tasting experience as I’ve had in a long time. The wine just kept improving over the course of three+ hours. The always-curious, pseudo-scientific side of me wishes I’d saved a glass for day three. The hedonist in me, though, was having none of that.

I’m guessing that this bottle, disgorged on March 3, 2008, contained base wines from no more recently than 2004. As the label notes indicate, the wine’s structure suggests a long life ahead for those willing to wait.

Update: With a little research, along with some thoughtful help from Peter and Sharon, it turns out that Selosse usually ages "Substance" for four-to-five years in bottle prior to disgorgement (I'd taken an educated guess at a three-to-four year regime). So, it's likely that the most recent wine included in this bottle was from 2003, maybe even 2002. It turns out that Anselme also includes a significant amount of solids each time he replenishes the solera, making for an extended lees aging regime even before the wine is bottled.

* * *

In addition to the pieces from Eric Asimov mentioned above, there’s other good information about Selosse at Rare Wine Company’s website and at Château Loisel. Not surpsingly, Peter Liem also has a thing or three to say about Selosse’s terroir as well as, in more general terms, the use of soleras in Champagne.


Joe Manekin said...

great post, David. I forget does Selosse own a few hectares or purchase fruit in Avize?

David McDuff said...

Thanks, Joe. Selosse owns 7.5 hectares or so of vineyards, centered mostly around Avize on the Côte des Blancs. Substance is labeled as Récoltant-Manipulant (RM), which should preclude the possibility of purchased fruit.

Tracie P. said...

kumquat! jeremy and i tasted the "initial" at alfonso's house a few months back and kumquat jumped right into my eager nose!

followed by a display of extreme complexity and aroma, kumquat was the one that ran throughout.

truly special wine!

TomHudson said...

Never mind, I thought this was reggae, re Selassie.

Hence, I was wrong, no reference to Ethiopian or Jamaican wines.

David McDuff said...

You're making my mouth water, Tracie, though I hope the screaming tartness of kumquats wasn't identically replicated in the wine's acid profile.

Very nice, Tom. Perhaps you missed my Black Uhuru post from a few days back. In any case, I think I'd stick with something a little simpler for hanging out on the beach.

La Gramiere said...

Funny, I always drink champagne out of white wine glasses, flutes are just too limiting, you get so much more from the wine in a regular glass. Makes me thirsty!

David McDuff said...

Agreed 100%, Amy. In this case, the stemware choice had more to do with adding a celebratory feel to the start of the evening than it did with being the ideal choice for the Selosse. Having enough stemware for the 15 or so wines that were poured that night might have had a little to do with it, too.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin