Friday, November 7, 2008

Wine of the Week: Jacques Selosse Initiale Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru

I am, as is undoubtedly known, a great admirer of both Anselme Selosse and his wines. Much has been written about Selosse, and there is little left to contribute to either side of the debate—I’m sure that many of you have read Eric Asimov’s most recent piece on Selosse in the NY Times, and that some of you have also read Tom Stevenson’s review of Jacques Selosse in issue 21 of The World of Fine Wine (not available online).

Unfortunately, it’s not terribly easy for the average consumer to form their own opinion, as the wines are scarce, jealously guarded and costly. While Selosse has recently been reintroduced into the American market after a long hiatus, the wines are severely allocated and distributed only to restaurants, making them even more expensive and less accessible. Here in France, they are a little easier to obtain, if you know where to look. Admittedly, they are still not cheap, and whether or not they are worth the money is entirely up to you.

I am one of those consumers who will buy V.O. as often as I can, who will bend over backwards to procure Contraste, and who is delighted to pay the money for Substance or vintage champagne if I have sufficient cash in my pocket when it is offered to me. I like drinking Selosse’s wines. The only cuvée that I am slightly ambivalent about is the Initiale, which is, of course, the easiest one to find, as it represents over two-thirds of his production. Of the comments against Selosse’s wines—that they’re too oaky, over-oxidized, overly aldehydic—I find that these apply more often to the Initiale than to the other wines. I also find a significant variation in this wine, with some bottles feeling oaky and oxidative, and others feeling terrifically energetic and lively. (It’s not as bad as, say, Marc Angeli’s La Lune, but it’s enough that I’ve found each experience with this wine to be different.)

The most recent bottle I drank was excellent, here at a restaurant in Epernay. It was disgorged on 26 October 2007, meaning that it’s likely a blend of 2003, 2002 and 2001, as Selosse ages this wine for three years on its lees. While the oak was apparent on the nose, it was accompanied by a deeply vinous intensity, and the two were integrated together in a seamless and sophisticated manner, without the oak feeling at all intrusive. It’s this vinosity that is the key to Selosse’s style, as the depth and concentration are the result of careful and deliberate work in the vines, which allows Selosse to do what he does in the cellar. (Compare this, for example, to Selosse’s neighbor De Sousa, who for me acquires richness more from winemaking than from winegrowing.) This wasn’t a terribly complex wine, but it was certainly expressive, carrying Anselme Selosse’s distinctive signature, and for me, that is perhaps the most important element. In a region where wines are often too neutral, those that stand up and declare their originality are all the more valuable.