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France’s Greatest Wine?
At a wine tasting I attended many years go, France’s most respected critic, Michel Bettane, was asked to name the country’s finest wine region. “Burgundy,” he answered quickly, but then he paused, “if it isn’t Champagne.” Happily, there’s no need to choose one over the other, but at least Burgundy has in place a set of regulations that obliges winemakers to emphasize the terroir origin and vintage of their wine.
No such rules exist in Champagne, other than that grapes are grown in approved Champagne vineyards. When you buy a bottle of brut from one of the big houses (les Grandes Marques), the juice in it may have come from 500 different vineyards and a dozen different vintages, and most of the grapes will have been produced by contract growers. The result is a consistent product that too often lacks character and charm.
But that state of affairs is changing, primarily due to the work of Anselme Selosse, whose vineyards are in the village of Avize in Champagne. As in so many areas of endeavor, one man has broken free from the standard procedure, in this case, poor viticultural and winemaking practices (pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, high yields per vine, too early harvesting, harsh pressing, excessive dosage), and begun to make wine with the same care as seen in other areas of France. The result is far from the acidic fizz that too often passes for Champagne. By showing what can be done with low yields of lovingly tended, ripe grapes from a single village in a single year, Selosse has inspired a generation of young champenois to stop selling their grapes to the big houses only to see them disappear into the blend; now small, conscientious growers are producing wines of complexity and variety. Here’s to that change. Quality Champagne marries beautifully with almost all food (except red meat), and we often drink a bottle throughout a meal.
Addendum: The Champagne region is about 90 minutes from Paris, and most little growers are happy to invite you into their home to taste their different cuvées. No charge, of course, but they are nonetheless happy to sell you what is still one of the best wine bargains in France. Regrettably, that hospitaity is no longer true for Anselme Selosse. He could sell his wine ten times over, and if he were to allow visits, he would spend his whole day guiding a stream of the faithful through his cellars.
Addendum: In a column in the WSJ, Jay McInerney describes a visit chez Selosse and the revolution taking place in Champagne. In an uncharacterisitc move, Jay posits a gustative equivalency between the big houses and the little growers. That’s clearly a political cop-out. Other than their top-of-the-line wines, the big guys’ products don’t come close to the little makers’ Champagnes.
August 14, 2013
Breaking: Of Crips and Bloods and Memories of Ghetto Parties
History repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce, or sometimes it just repeats itself. From the New York Times on November 30, 1998: At Dartmouth College, white students at a ”ghetto party” dressed…
June 25, 2013
Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson’s War on Students Part (2/2)
Today’s post again recounts the events that befell the Freshman. However, the content of the Hanover Police department report reproduced in this space yesterday is supplemented by information from my own interviews, a review of…
October 18, 2009
When Love Beckoned in 52nd Street
We were at San Francisco’s BIX last evening, enjoying prosecco, cheese, and a bit of music. A full year of inhabitation in Northern California has unraveled to me no decent venue for proper lounging, but…
October 9, 2009
D Afraid of a Little Competish
So our colleague and Dartblog writer Joe Asch informed me that the D has rejected our cunning advertising campaign. Uh-oh. The Dartmouth is widely known as a breeding ground for instant New York Times successes,…
September 4, 2009
How Regents Should Reign
As Dartmouth alumni proceed through the legal hoops necessary to defuse a Board-packing plan—which put in unhappy desuetude an historic 1891 Agreement between alumni and the College guaranteeing a half-democratically-elected Board of Trustees—it strikes one…
August 29, 2009
Election Reform Study Committee
If you are an alum of the College on the Hill, you may have received a number of e-mails of late beseeching your input for a new arm of the College’s Alumni Control Apparatus called…