By Martyn Zemavicius
Having received an invitation from my dear friend Andrius to attend a blind champagne tasting called “the Seven Samurai”, I immediately told him I’d be there. Not just because every degustation Andrius organises is magnificent. Mainly because of the fun theme for the tasting.
His grand idea? To serve seven different champagnes from the house of Jacques Selosse, each representing a character from Akira Kurosawa’s legendary sword-fighting movie, The Seven Samurai. Moreover, each champagne would be opened by sabrage.
For those who have never seen the film, it tells the story of a poor village that gets raided every year by a band of 40 ruthless bandits, who steal the villagers’ crops and kidnap their women. The villagers decide the only way they can save themselves is to scrape together what little money they have to hire samurai. They manage to find seven samurai who will fight for their paltry reward. These brave samurai must defy the odds to defend the village and fight an epic battle against the bandits.
The wines were served in flights of two, with some chapter titles to give us clues. So as we listened to the dramatic soundtrack from the film, we got stuck into our first flight.
Chapter One – The Walled Field Ends Below the Hill
- NV Jacques Selosse Mareuil sur Ay ‘Sous le Mont’
First release of this cuvee, which is 100% Pinot Noir (from a solera begun in 2005). Disgorged 2012.
Heihachi Hayashida (林田平八) was the character chosen to represent wine 1. Recruited by Gorōbei, he is an amiable fighter, if less skilled than the others. His charm and wit maintain his comrades’ good cheer in the face of adversity.
As this samurai was less skilled, he symbolised the fact that the ‘Sous le Mont’ is made from Premier Cru fruit, whereas the other wines were Grand Cru. (The name ‘Sous le Mont’ can be translated into English as ‘below the hill’.)
- NV Jacques Selosse Ambonnay ‘Le Bout du Clos’
The first release of this cuvee (from solera beginning 2004).
80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay. Disgorged 2011.
Kikuchiyo (菊千代) is a humorous character who claims to be a samurai, but has falsified his ancestry. Mercurial and temperamental, he identifies with the villagers and their plight. He reveals to the group that he is not a samurai, but a peasant. When the fight begins, he proves his worth.
Just as Kikuchiyo was different from the others (not being a real samurai), this champagne is different. It is a blend of grape varieties, whereas the others are single variety. Not many people know that Le Bout du Clos is not a blanc de noirs. Anselme Selosse adds 20 percent Chardonnay to the blend, because this lieu-dit is very small and some Chardonnay was historically grown there. (‘Le Bout du Clos’ translates as ‘the edge of the walled field’.)
Chapter Two – The Essence
- Jacques Selosse Substance (base 2008)
100% Chardonnay. Disgorged 2015.
Katsushirō Okamoto (岡本勝四郎) is a young untested warrior. The son of a wealthy landowning samurai, he left home to become a wandering samurai against his family’s wishes. After witnessing Kambei rescue a child who was taken hostage, Katsushirō vows to be Kambei’s disciple.
- Jacques Selosse Substance (base 2005)
100% Chardonnay. Disgorged 2012.
Gorōbei Katayama (片山五郎兵衛) is a skilled archer recruited by Kambei. He acts as the second-in-command, and helps craft the master plan for the village’s defense.
These characters represent Substance because they are both men of character at, with Katsushiro (the younger of the two) represented by the younger wine, and Gorobei the older.
Chapter Three – Origins
- Jacques Selosse Extra Brut
100% Chardonnay, an assemblage of 1992, 1991 and 1990 from Avize, Cramant and Mesnil. Disgorged 1999.
Shichirōji (七郎次) is an old friend of Kambei and his former lieutenant. Kambei meets Shichirōji by chance in the town and he resumes this role.
- Jacques Selosse Origine
100% Chardonnay (from solera 1986-92).
Disgorged in 1999.
Kambei Shimada (島田勘兵衛) is a ronin (a masterless samurai) and the leader of the group. The first to be recruited by the villagers, he is a wise but war-weary soldier.
These two characters both symbolise origins. Shichiroji and Kambei have a relationship that begins years ago. The Selosse Extra Brut is made from an assemblage going back in time, and the Origine is the predecessor wine to the Substance.
Chapter Four – Skill
- Selosse 1998
100% Chardonnay. One of the two finest vintages Selosse has produced.
Kyūzō (久蔵) He initially declines an offer by Kambei to join the group, but he changes his mind. A serious, stone-faced samurai, of whom Katsushirō is in awe.
Because of his supreme skill as a swordsman, his character was chosen to represent the 1998 Selosse, which is one of the two best vintages Selosse ever produced. (The other is the 1986, the vintage that earned Anselme Selosse the title of Winemaker of the Year in France.)
Chapter Five – Blue Blood
Just as we thought the tasting had finished, our other dear friend Andrej brought a decanter with red wine. And from the first smell it was very clear that this ‘blue blooded’ wine was imperial in quality. The nose alone was worthy of 100 points straight away. And it was poured from magnum, as befits an emperor of a wine.
- 1959 Chateau Pavie, Saint Emilion (from magnum)
The story of the Seven Samurai takes place in 1586. At that time, the Emperor of Japan was Emperor Ōgimachi (正親町天皇). He reigned from 1557 to 1586. His personal name was Michihito (方仁).
This was a truly unique tasting of great creativity, with much thought and time taken to organise it.
These wines confirmed to me yet again that Anselme Selosse is a genius. His champagnes are magnificent and as full of character as the samurais immortalised on film.
The 1959 Pavie was and is one of the top red Bordeaux from an outstanding vintage. In magnums especially, wines of this quality and structure can age gracefully for decades and could take pride of place on any imperial table.
I am bowing my head very low and saying arigato gozaimasu to Andrius and Andrej for my introduction to The Seven Samurai and The Emperor of Japan.
The sabred bottles