Saturday, April 26, 2008

Champagne and Terroir: Jacques Selosse

There was a recent debate on Wine Therapy (link here, but you’ll need a password to access it) about, among other things, whether or not sparkling wine is intrinsically less terroir-expressive than still wine because of its process: i.e. does the méthode champenoise, as we used to call it, remove the wine farther from its terroir?

I was visiting Anselme Selosse yesterday afternoon with some folks from the Franciacorta winery of Uberti (Silvia Uberti, pictured in this photo, was a stagière here in 2003), and this same question was posed regarding still and sparkling wines. Selosse’s response was more or less identical to mine in Wine Therapy. “There is no answer to that question,” he said. “The minerality is clearly present in champagne; the terroir is obviously expressed. You can see it.”

Later, I thought about this idea again as we were tasting various wines. We had tasted a recently disgorged (3rd of March) version of Substance, which was forceful and almost severe in its soil expression, possessing a fierce, naked intensity of terroir that few wines made anywhere, of any type, can achieve. Substance comes from two vineyards in Avize—the shallow, clay-rich Chantereines and the steep, chalky Marvillannes—and the tremendous accomplishment of this wine was that both soil types were clearly and distinctly expressed, harmoniously intertwining yet not at all blurring each other.

Afterwards, Selosse poured me a sample of the solera that Substance is made from, which currently contains wines from 1986 through 2007 (the finished wine that we tasted was 1986-2001), and the curious thing was that as vin clair, this was so much quieter and less expressive than in bottle. The components were all present, but there was clearly something about the “champagnization” that amplified and completed the wine, expanding the aromas and bringing the elements into focus. Obviously I shouldn’t have been surprised, as vin clair is always less aromatic and less forthcoming than finished champagne, but to see the two together side by side was a striking comparison.

Now, I realize that this actually says nothing about whether a still or sparkling wine is more terroir-expressive. I do think, however, that in this region the champagne process makes a more complete wine, which is why it continues to be used, and in becoming more complete I believe that the wine has the potential to become more expressive. Champagne, at any rate, is obviously a terroir-expressive wine. All you have to do is taste.

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