This is a story for everyone who thinks that champagne is an overpriced, acidic beverage you’re supposed to sip on New Year’s Eve. I feel you, because I used to feel the same way. But then, there was Jacques Selosse. And Anselme Selosse. And Guillaume Selosse.
The latter I met in real life in December 2019. He gave a masterclass including a four course dinner and the same amount of glasses filled with the finest champagne you’ll ever taste. It was on a Thursday, and we only saw the announcement two days before the event took place. Out of nowhere, my boyfriend started screaming the words “Selosse”, “masterclass” and “must go to France”. To be honest, I only said yes because I wanted to practice my French on the phone. It’s a 5-hour drive and the masterclass was on a week day, which meant I had to work with my laptop on my actual lap, getting car sick as an added bonus.
Needless to say, we drove to France. I did work in the car, and I did get car sick. But it was all worth it. Below, I’ll tell you what happened, and, of course, what we drank during our stay.
Stop 1. Au Bon Manger- Reims
Around 4 pm we passed through Reims for a spontaneous pit stop at Au Bon Manger, a small and coulnd’t-be-more-French deli with very fine champagne, very fine wine and ditto food. Once there, the queen of champagne Aline Serva wasn’t even surprised to see us. We only saw her two weeks ago, at the very same spot, coming for the exact same thing: a glass of champagne, a bite to eat and a couple of bottles to go (always turning into a lot).
Aline served us a glass of Champagne by Thomas Perseval, a relatively new name in the region. It tasted like someone had melted a pot of honey and thinned it with the crispiest apple juice- only better. We had some baguette and cheese on the side (when you drink champagne, all other things are on the side). After my second glass I started to get dizzy, which was our cue to leave the building and move on to our next stop.
Stop 2. Sacré Bistro- Épernay
Next up was Sacré Bistro, the restaurant where the masterclass took place. It took some time for us to get there, as Emmanuel Macron decided to pay a visit to Épernay on the very same night (so great minds do think alike). Unfortunately, people in Épernay paid much more attention to his presence than they did to ours, resulting in long traffic jams we were forced to participate in. But what the hell- we were on a spontaneous trip to France and about to meet Guillaume Selosse, son of living legend Anselme Selosse.
We ran into Guillaume Selosse earlier than expected, smoking outside the bistro with some of his friends. He was very French indeed: tousled hair, laid-back style trousers and that “Oh hi there I don’t know you but that’s cool” look. We went inside and I felt nervous, as I tend to be when I’m around famous people. Which is funny, because in the Netherlands (or even elsewhere in France!) people don’t even know Guillaume. Their loss.
Domaine Jacques Selosse
Guillaume kicked off the masterclass by giving us some background information on the Domaine Jacques Selosse. It all started with his grandfather Jacques, who started making champagne as a semi-professional hobby and sold small amounts to customers in France, Belgium and Switzerland. It was Guillaume’s father Anselme who turned the thing upside down and started a champagne brand that would become known in all parts of the world. Anselme used to get into a lot of arguments, so Guillaume told us, as the people that made the rules for biodynamic winemaking kept him from making the champagne he wanted to make. He got rid of the biodynamic label and started working according to his own, organic principles, not knowing he’d become a living legend. If you’d like to know more about the domaine, read my review page.
Anselme was supposed to retire a few years ago so that Guillaume could take over the family business. However, he still visits the vineyards on a daily basis, refusing to sit at home doing nothing. I respect that. So does Guillaume, for that matter. The two get along just fine, as Anselme taught him all he knows without telling him what to do (scroll down for the micro-interview).
Oh right, the champagne! So this is what they served us:
Course 1. Version Originale
We started with the all-star: Version Originale (V.O. for friends), accompanied by tartare de Saint Jacques mangue passion, poivre timut marinade huile d’olive. Or what I saw on my plate: a seared scallop and a raw one mixed with mango and passion fruit. We were off to a great start, as the dish combined perfectly with the champagne. At the bottom of this page you’ll find the pictures that I found on the instagram page of Guillaume’s wife, Caroline Selosse (needless to say that photo credits go to her).
Course 2. Lieux-Dits sous le mont Mareuil-sur-Ay
Next up was Lieux-Dits* sous le mont Mareuil-sur-Ay, a strong champagne that reminded both of us of caramel and toffee. It came with foie gras poêlé on top of a brioche cacao and jus de canard (absolutely devine) and foie gras poché au bouillon de canard. This dish, in turn, came with a mysterious émulsion d’hibiscus et framboise; a raspberry mousse that tied all of the other ingredients together. The earthy taste of the gras poêlé and the depth of the Lieux Dits is still stuck in my head, and I can only hope it’ll stay there forever.
*I’ll tell you about Lieux Dits later, it’s worth a separate article.
Course 3. Lieux Dits la côte faron Ay
I’m usually not a meat lover, but I’ll make an exception for the veau & boeuf explosion that was this third course. It combined paleron de veau with a carpaccio de boeuf and a cute little pumpkin filled with earthy mushrooms. To be very honest, this is where I lost track of the champagne, as it was my fourth glass of the evening (my alcohol tax is usually 3). This Lieux Dits was more sour and raisin-flavoured than the previous one, but delicious nonetheless. I’ll definitely try this one again, as I couldn’t do it justice through the many different champagne flavours passing our table.
Course 4. Initial Grand Cru
The thought of this last course still puts a smile on my face. Especially when I think about the combination of brillât savarin truffé (that’s French for damn good cheese) and fresh raspberries. Initial Grand Cru completed the dish, by being its fabulous self and bringing even more force to the table. We were both very happy this was the last course, as we were completely full and also slightly drunk. I put down “slightly” to sound more classy. The truth is I was drunk.
In between courses, Guillaume Selosse went from table to table to answer questions. We wanted to know why some of the Selosse champagnes tasted more chalky than others, even when they came from the very same field. Guillaume started waving his hands and answered in the most French way possible: “Ben oui, ça dépend des circonstances!” Of course it does.
“Ne suis pas sur mes traces, je vais marcher à côté de toi”
Later that evening, I picked up the courage to ask Guillaume whether he felt pressure from being the son of such an accomplished champagne producer. He wasn’t. “Mon père m’a toujours dit: ne suis pas sur mes traces, je vais marcher à côté de toi. Il me laisse libre.” In other words: his father didn’t want Guillaume to follow in his footsteps; he wanted Guillaume to become himself. I loved that answer. Why be intimidated by a champagne master that gives you all the opportunities to become one yourself?
Stop 3. Waïda
The next morning, I experienced my first ever champagne hangover. I can assure you that this kind of malheur is worth it. Yes, there’s headache and nausea, but there’s also the memory of honey and small bubbles and the realisation that soon you’ll be able to taste it all again. We got up, drove to Reims and had breakfast in Waïda, a neon-lit patisserie that’s every child’s fantasy when it comes to chocolate, macarons and cookies. I had recently fallen in love with scrambled eggs, and Waïda’s oeufs brouillés warmed my soul and made the nausea fade away. We were in France, and all was well.
Stop 4. Cave des Sacres
Last stop was wine shop Cave des Sacres, a small boutique near la Cathédrale de Reims. It was pouring with rain, but I promised my colleagues to finally bring home an actual bottle of champagne, having travelled to the region for so many years. So, on November 15 2019, I bought my very first bottle: a Tarlant. We got into the car and drove all the way back to Amsterdam. I worked with my laptop on my lap and got car sick again. It didn’t matter- we had just been to France and I bought my first champagne. I wonder how many weeks we’ll be able to keep ourselves from going back.