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Salon Champagne

2009/08/25

I love Champagne. There, I said it. To be honest, I enjoy most sparkling wine – Franciacorta and Prosecco from Italy, Cremant de Loire from France, even Cava from Spain, but Champagne is always tops. It’s disappointing that Champers is often reserved for special occasions. It shouldn’t be! A round of applause for readers out there that are sipping on a glass right now or because it’s Tuesday or Thursday or 2am on Saturday or whatever. Champagne does go with everything – even Doritos!

My favourite Champagne house is Salon. Located in Le Mesnil-Sur Oger, Salon is a Blanc de Blancs Champagne meaning that it’s made from 100% Chardonnay unlike some other wines from the region that are blended with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier or, rarely, monovarietal Pinot Noir (Blanc de Noirs). Rarer still are bottles made from solely Pinot Meunier.

While some houses make both Non-Vintage (or Multi-Vintage as Krug likes to call it) and Vintage Champagne, Salon only makes Vintage wines in top years. What does that mean? Well, it means that only 37 vintages were made in the 20th century starting with 1905 and concluding with the yet-to-be-released 1999.  2002 and 2004 will also be produced. I’ve been fortunate to taste all vintages from the 1980s and 1990s on numerous occasions and am excited whenever a bottle is opened. In vintages that are not deemed suitable to declare or if some grapes aren’t considered worthy of the top wine, they are passed down to labels at their sister house, Delamotte.

Made in a more feminine, elegant style, Salon has a pretty distinct profile, most notably the oxidized/sherry notes that develop on the nose and palate. Depending on vintage, the also regularly displays notes of hazelnut, jasmine flowers and, with cellaring, an obvious coffee note. These characteristics are very appealing to some drinkers and quite the opposite for others.

In my experience, this Champagne is not generally one to drink young. Twenty or more years from vintage is a good jumping off point. It should also be noted that when a Salon is opened, inevitably people try to make sure it’s the first bottle emptied due to its pedigree. Show patience! Don’t drink it too cold; in fact it often drinks better at cellar temperature. Give it lots of air. It will be a very good Champagne right out of the bottle. But with air, as in with that last glass you very carefully hid from your dining companions, it can be otherworldly as bottles of 1982, 1985, 1988, and 1990 have demonstrated in the past. Bookending a meal with Salon? There are few things greater!

Unfortunately I do have a couple gripes with Salon. First, there has been some bottle variation over the years, especially with older bottles and less than stellar provenance. While provenance is always an issue when collecting wine it seems that some bottles are simply good, others extraordinary, and others still fall somewhere in the middle.

Second is price. With the release of the 1995 vintage to some extent and definitely with the 1996s, Salon pricing has gone through the roof. What used to be available for less than $200 a bottle here in Ontario (I think I paid $129 for 1985 and $169 for 1990), the 1996 and 1997 are over $400. I think that’s absolutely ridiculous. Pricing holds pretty firm for the U.S. market as well. I’ve heard various musings over the years but one story (which may be completely untrue) was that consumers didn’t think Salon carried the cachet of more expensive and apparently therefore more prestigious labels like Krug. So the price went up. And up. And I’m sad as a result because 1.) I can’t afford that, and 2.) even if I could, I refuse to spend that kind of money on one bottle of wine.

I will continue to keep my eye out for deals on all vintages, regardless of how unlikely it is to find for a reasonable price and taking into consideration the provenance issue I mentioned above. Below are a couple recent bottles of Salon I tasted, including my last bottle of the lovely 1990. It was one of those bottles that fell somewhere in the middle.

Salon Label
  • 1990 Salon Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger, Champagne (7/16/2009)
    Beautiful medium-dark gold colour. Aromas of apple, lemon, brioche, and a hint of coffee. Great texture and fine, fine bead. In typical Salon fashion, the nose and palate becomes significantly more expressive with air. After three hours, the wine also shows sherry, jasmine, and hazelnut notes. The wine is completely seamless from the nose through to the moderate-long, 35-40s finish. It is not the most profound example of the 1990 that I’ve had, but it is still delicious. It’s just disappointing that the sticker price has shot up so much over recent years. (93 pts.)
  • 1988 Salon Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger, Champagne (6/6/2009)
    5th Annual Italian Offline (Six Steps Restaurant, Toronto, Canada): Gold colour. Pretty, typical Salon nose of sherry, jasmine, honey, Meyer lemon rind, cream, and hazelnuts. So expressive and powerful. Full-bodied, gorgeous texture. Sherry, dried apples, hazelnuts, pear, jasmine. Long, long finish, ~50+ seconds with more dried apples and pears, Meyer lemon, and nuts. In typical Salon fashion, this wine was great on opening, but dynamite after sitting in a glass all night. The four hours of air allowed additional layers of complexity to develop. Truly stunning stuff, and always a privilege to drink (especially considering the ridiculous prices new vintages – and old at this point – command)! Drink now and over the next 10+ years easily. (95 pts.)

No updates for the rest of the week. I’ll be back with more tasty Chicago eats when I get back, including plenty of wine notes!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 2009/08/26 10:30 AM

    Thanks to Jean-Baptiste Cristini at Salon for emailing me in regards to this blog post and clarifying that the story I mentioned re: pricing was indeed just that, a story. Supply and demand is in full effect here. Production has not changed in 50 years, and demand has increased significantly in the worldwide market.

  2. Jess Yared permalink
    2009/08/26 9:31 PM

    Have you considered emailing the restaurant or wine/champagne company that you are reviewing in your blogs with the link to the review? It might yield some wonderful fruit of your labours, even if the reviews aren’t 100% positive.

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