I cannot deny that the picture above represents one of the most beautiful sights in the world.
But let's backtrack. It was Monday morning, and it was early that I set out from Paris with David, to reach the small, obscure village of Congy. By an amusing coincidence, we, along with fellow oenophile Michaël and a friend of his from Germany, were scheduled to visit the domain Ulysse Collin. That is, precisely, the champagnes of Olivier Collin, whom I'd spent all Friday afternoon tasting with in Paris.
What followed was a genial two-and-a-half-hour visit of Olivier's cellar, a tasting of his wines from barrel and then bottle (a 2005 that was of quite a different character from his 2004, as well as 2006s in both blanc de blancs and rosé de saignée versions, the latter of an interesting "œil de perdrix" color with great depth of bitterness).
Afterward, we headed out with our vigneron friend to visit Les Perrières, a curious plot of vines with silex in the soil. It was pretty muddy, so Parisian boots were spackled grey, but that was no issue. It is always fascinating to see how the look and feel of the vineyard relates to what one tastes in the bottle. Grass grew here, and the four parts to the Perrières parcel were each positioned differently. An interesting and instructive glimpse behind the curtain.
Then we got back in our cars and sped off toward Avize.
We were late to Selosse's, but he received us with the usual expansive generosity. I hate to say it, but going to his chai always makes me feel the wonderment and joy of a small child. I know I'm going to taste fabulous things and have a curious and unpredictable conversation.
This was the case on Monday, with an even greater pleasure to find that all the wines were showing their best, most balanced attributes (it's true that since these are uncalibrated bottles, things of nature, they can sometimes show less brightly or off).
We tasted V.O., 1999, Rosé, Substance, Exquise and Il Était Une Fois.
The first, V.O., is Selosse's non dosaged extra-brut, and it was absolutely balanced, perfectly deep, the picture of "verticality," as he puts it.
The 1999 was a brawny thing, yet mastered. 14.2% alcohol, and no dosage, as he had disgorged it on the spot. It had great length and complexity, but was more a snapshot of a year, with that year's attributes, than the vertical, plunging and seemingly timeless V.O.
The Rosé, here, came off as more Cistercian than usual: as it turns out, Selosse had changed the dosage, lowering it for the same bottling compared to the shipment that went out to America a few months ago, and which he now prefers. This has about 2.5g/l, whereas the American version has 3.5g/l. However, I found great beauty and minerality in this version of the Rosé. I love, too, that his rosé is absolutely, just absolutely Selosse; its adjunction of red wine (from Egly-Ouriet) does nothing to obscure the particular character of his wines.
Substance was an opulent thing of beauty. Layers upon layers of heady pleasure, with dense bubbles and a full feel in the mouth. Once you've had this, there is never any going back.
The others were tasting Exquise, but I begged for a taste of the 2000, which was open and half-hidden. With a nod and a quick check that no one was looking, Anselme silently poured me some, then returned to pouring Exquise for the others.
The 2000 was unlike the previous vintage Selosses I've tried. Something more uncertain, for now. Anselme was very critical of it, but I think it's just struggling its way out of the starting blocks and needs some more time to find itself. But that's just me.
I had to catch up with Exquise, so I helped myself.
Then we got to taste the mistelle Il Était Une Fois – a "wine" made from excess grape juice that exceeded INAO regulations and couldn't be vinified. Selosse had been keeping this juice for 6 years. At the end, he added fine de Champagne to make the mistelle. It is 15% alcohol and about 168g/l of sugar! A sweet, sticky thing, I had tasted it in April and it had searingly pure Selosse character. Here, it had been marked by more aging and some oak and had taken on walnut notes and confited fruit. Curious; and a one-off experiment for him, whence its name, which means "Once Upon a Time."
For this tasting, unusually, we were in a bright room up top in the chai, which he decided to use because we were freezing and it was heatable, but which scribbled notes on the wall showed hadn't been used in a while – they were all dated 2004, 2005. I asked why, and he said that he'd just stopped using it. Well, at least I found a marker that still worked.0