Salon is one of the most intriguing – and mysterious – names in Champagne. It is also a most unusual wine: there is only one cuvée, it is produced only in exceptional years (there were only 37 releases in the entire 20th century), it is made only from Chardonnay and it is sourced only from vineyards of the grand cru Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. It’s a rare and expensive Champagne, and the release of the new 2002 vintage – from an exceptionally good Champagne year – has been keenly anticipated. The Salon story stretches back to the start of the 20th century, when Eugène Aimé Salon, a businessman working in the fur trade in Paris, returned to his family’s roots to make a Champagne, purely from Chardonnay grapes grown in Le Mesnil.
This was, arguably, the first ever ‘Blanc de Blancs’ Champagne, but it began life as a hobby, a pet project of Eugène Aimé Salon, who made tiny quantities of wine for his own consumption and that of friends and family. The first release was in 1911, of a wine from the 1905 vintage, but Salon did not become a fully commercial product until the 1921 vintage. The house was headed by Aimé Salon until his death in 1943, and then by his nephew until 1988. Since then, the house has been in the hands of Champagne Laurent-Perrier, a large family-owned company. Salon is run by chef de cave Didier Depond. It has always been an essentially négociant business. It does own a tiny, one-hectare plot in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger known as ‘Le Jardin’, but otherwise has long-standing contracts with growers in Le Mesnil, where Salon directs the viticulture.
The wine is aged on the lees for an average of 10 years before release. Champagne Delamotte (the fifth oldest Champagne house, founded in 1760) is a sister house to Salon, sited literally next door, also owned by Laurent-Perrier and sharing the same staff including Didier Depond. In those years when Salon is not made some of its grapes become part of the Delamotte blend (which makes Delamotte’s vintage Blanc de Blancs particularly desirable to Champagne aficionados in the know). Delamotte is also a house driven by Chardonnay, sourcing grapes from the grand cru villages of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Avize and Oger. This tasting (and an excellent launch dinner at Scotland’s Ballathie House hotel) celebrated the launch of the 2002 vintage of Salon, and was presented by export director for both Salon and Delamotte, Vianney Gravereaux. We had the chance to also compare the 1999 vintage of Salon, and several cuvées of Delamotte.
The wines – Salon
The wines of both Salon and Delamotte are imported into the UK by Corney & Barrow Ltd. Their prices are quoted below along with links to other stockists.
Champagne Salon, Cuvée ‘S’ 2002, France
Only around 5,000 cases of Salon are released, and Vianney pointed out that we were amongst the first couple hundred people in the world to taste the new vintage. Saved by perfect late summer weather, 2002 is generally acknowledged to be a superb Champagne vintage. With a dosage of only 5g/l of sugar and with malolactic fermentation blocked, this young and tense wine is all about purity, discretion and nervosity at this stage. There is an appealing custard note, but the lemon and lime skin intensity of the fruit is what subtly drives the aromatics. It is pristine stuff, a little juicier orange note emerging, subtle hints of exotic spice and floral top notes. It is low-key, but complex. In the mouth there is a burgeoning sense of richness, a thin layer of marzipan and biscuit, but spread over such intense mineral and refined apple fruit and saline acidity. The mousse is fine but lively, and those zesty and floral notes swirl around the core of acidity in the finish. This Champagne should have considerable cellaring potential – and the potential to be absolutely outstanding. 97-98/100. £220 per bottle in-bond (duty and VAT to be added), Corney & Barrow. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Champagne Salon, Cuvée ‘S’ 1999, France
I tasted this wine shortly before Christmas and thought it was superb (scoring 96-97/100), so it was a welcome chance to taste it again in different surroundings. The 37th ever bottling of Salon is a different animal in many ways, with more roundness and depth of fruit, presumably through both vintage conditions and the extra three years of age. It came from a warm year that was one of the highest yielding ever in Champagne. It has a slightly deeper colour and is a little more open and nutty though still with a pristine fruit character that is elegant and pure. Joyous stuff for drinking already, there are hints of ginger, pear and spices, a real feeling of warmth, but then the tension builds through the core of refined acid. Delicious, though arguably without the aesthetic beauty and infinite precision of the 2002. 95-96/100. £220 per bottle including VAT, Corney & Barrow. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
The wines – Delamotte
Champagne Delamotte, Blanc de Blancs NV, France
Sourced from three crus which, according to Vianney work together: “Le Mesnil-sur-Oger for fruit and warmth, Avize for floral character and Cramant as the great unifier.” It has a bright, green apple freshness, a very appealing a racy palate with apple and lemon at the core, but not without a little biscuity development and richness too. Four years on the lees has given a broader base to ultra-sharp flavours. £37.95, Corney & Barrow. 89/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Champagne Delamotte, Blanc de Blancs 2004, France
This tasting note dates from December 2013, but has been added here for completeness. With eight years in the cellar this has quite a developed, creamy but sour lemon and apple nose, showing nice complexity with a bit of breadth, yeastiness, but citrus freshness too. Again a bit of breadth to the palate, a vinous character, rounded with a fine mousse and good length. 91/100. £47.50, Corney & Barrow. 91-92/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Champagne Delamotte, Rosé NV, France
A ‘saignée’ method rosé, where around 80% of Pinot Noir was fermented with Chardonnay until enough colour and flavour had leeched from the skins. This is all about red berry fruit, from its quite deep cherry colour to the cherry and raspberry touches freshening the palate. It has a crisp, tantalising dryness and raciness to the mousse, but it is relatively full-bodied too with texture and the pillow of mousse carrying through to a long, clear and well-balanced finish. I really enjoyed this, the first time I can recall tasting the Delamotte Rosé. £39.95, Corney & Barrow. 90-91/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.