Every decade or two, 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. He has become one of the true icons of wine, no less important and admired than Jean-François Coche in Burgundy or Marcel Guigal in Côte Rôtie.
The greatness of Jacques Selosse wines come from a simple idea: to make profound Champagne, you must start with great fruit. In the 1970s, when Anselme Selosse came of age, such an idea was revolutionary. This was, after all, a time when the fruit that went into most Champagnes was of historically low quality, the result of high yields and excessive use of chemicals.
But Anselme had a different perspective, born of his time studying in Burgundy and learning the lessons of Coche, Lafon and Leflaive. He believed not only in low yields and organic viticulture, he also believed in terroir. He was, in short, a heretic in Champagne.
Not to be deterred, in 1980, when he took over his father's domaine, he slashed yields and rid his land of chemicals. And he began to focus, in a way unprecedented in Champagne, on his vineyards, all grand cru holdings in Avize, Cramant, and Oger.
He emerged as one of the world's most profound thinkers about the relationship between healthy soils and the wines that spring from them. And thanks to his genius, his fruit is not only Champagne's most physiologically ripe, but also its most expressive.
In the winery, he also defies convention, using only indigenous yeasts for fermentations and minimizing the use of SO2. Fermentation and aging is in wood barrels (less than 20% new), and wines are left on their fine lees for extended periods. And because, as Anselme says, “great Champagne needs no make-up, dosage is kept to an absolute minimum.”
Anselme's purest expression of terroir is of course the famed Substance, a solera created in 1986. By marrying some twenty vintages, he removes vintage variation, allowing the Avize terroir to speak on its own.
His vintage Millésime does the opposite. Because it draws on the same parcels of vines each year, it is able to express, perhaps more than any other wine in Champagne, the character of the year.
As a pair, Brut Initial and Version Originale show the influence of age and terroir. Each is a blend of three vintages of Chardonnay from the same three villages: Avize, Oger and Cramant. Yet, while Initial is a blend of harvests from the mid-2000s from lower slope vines, Originale is made from older vintages and from hillside vines.
Anselme's Rosé is pure, intensely mineral Chardonnay from a pair of vintages, with a small amount of still Ambonnay Pinot Noir added.
In the fall of 2010, Anselme made big news when he announced that he'd be releasing a collection of six lieu-dit, or single-vineyard, wines, each promising to be the definitive expression of a noble Champagne village.
His first step was to change the name of Contraste (his solera of Aÿ Pinot Noir) to “La Côte Faron,” acknowledging its single-vineyard origins. Anselme also released “Les Carelles,” a solera of 100% Chardonnay from the village of Le Mesnil.
Subsequently, Anselme will complete this collection with his 100% Pinot Noir cuvées “Sous le Mont” and “Le Bout du Clos”—from Mareuil and from Ambonnay, respectively. And for his 100% Chardonnay cuvées, Anselme will release “Les Chantereines” and “Chemin de Châlons” from Avize and from Cramant, respectively.
It is a measure of what Anselme has accomplished that in 1994, Gault-Millau named him France's best winemaker in every category, an unprecedented honor. Accolades like this have contributed to his reputation as perhaps the most original winemaker in France today, admired not only by his peers but by a legion of collectors worldwide who covet each and every bottle of Jacques Selosse Champagne they can find.