It is not universally known that the champagne houses of Salon and Delamotte are conjoined. Affectionately termed ‘sister houses’, they are produced and managed by the same team, sharing grapes, offices and winemakers alike. Moreover, it is even less widely understood that both houses belong to the burgeoning portfolio of the Laurent-Perrier group, the same family company that runs the (contrastingly, very well known) eponymous champagne business based in Tours-sur-Marne.
Located on the other side of the Marne River, home for Salon and Delamotte is the grand cru commune Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. Situated at the very heart of the Chardonnay-rich Côte des Blancs, next-door neighbours Salon and Delamotte were bought by the Laurent-Perrier Group in 1986, then under the leadership of champagne legend Bernard de Nonancourt. Although founded more than 200 years apart (Delamotte opened its doors in 1760, Salon not until 1911), the houses supposedly always had close familial relations. Given also their common love affair with Blanc de Blancs, the decision to coalesce the companies in 1988 seemed only natural.
Both houses have a very narrow focus: quality, rather than quantity, is the philosophy here. Delamotte produce around 800,000 bottles annually, spread across just four cuvées: a Brut NV, a Rosé NV, and a Blanc de Blancs NV and Vintage. Salon, on the other hand, famously produce just one cuvée: the ultra-prestige Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs. Production at Salon is just 60,000 bottles in a high-volume year (it is often much, much less) and just 41 vintages have been released in its 100-year history.
A unique story of the singular (one house, one village, one vintage, one grape variety, one cuvée), Salon has always been somewhat of a cult champagne. With so few available, each new release is swept up by thirsty investors and the price consequently increases year upon year. Nowadays, a sybaritic lifestyle and Salon go hand in hand. We were even told the story of a recently married Japanese couple, who, so utterly obsessed with Salon, travel the world with the aim of drinking it everywhere they go. (Incidentally, 30–35% of Salon and Delamotte’s exports go to Japan).
Though Salon is incontestably the star, Delamotte does not need the reputation of its celebrity sibling to attest to the quality of its champagnes. The fact is, they are intertwined. In the years that Salon does not declare a vintage, the high quality grapes go towards producing Delamotte. As much a Blanc de Blancs specialist as Salon, Delamotte and its range offers consumers the chance to mingle with Salon’s outstanding style at a mere fraction of the price.
Indeed, when we met with president Didier Depond (who has managed both companies since 1997) at the administrative premises in Le Mesnil this summer, a range of quite spectacular Delamotte Blanc de Blancs were appropriately presented as a warm-up act for our scheduled Salon tasting.
We sampled the new vintage release, Blanc de Blancs 2012, to which two new crus, Chouilly and Oiry, were added to the traditional blend of Le Mesnil, Oger, Avize and Cramant. Depond described it as a “super-difficult vintage” and the small 80,000 bottle production was apparently only possible with a very careful selection of grapes. “The Pinot Noir was especially difficult in 2012.”
Depond also shared two vintages of the Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Collection, a ‘late-disgorge’ concept initiated five years ago whereby select vintages are kept on the lees for a minimum of 15 years before release. Depond said he loves the “freshness and richness” after this time, adding, “the balance is quite perfect.”
|Delamotte Blanc de Blancs NV | 16.5+/20
100% CH | Base Vintage: 2013 | Reserve Wine: 30% | Lees Ageing: 3 Years | Disgorged: September 2017 | Dosage: 6.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Years
Initially you see bright lemon sherbet and then juicy pear character. Good level of ripe fruit intensity and lees character. Shows well, with hints of honey and ripe apple on the finish. Drink now to 2025.
|Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 2012 | 17/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 6 Years | Disgorged: March 2019 | Dosage: 6 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 3 Months
Super difficult harvest, lots of rain and odium pressure, though the champagne is pure and precise. Distinct lemony richness with a hint of smoky reductive quality. Very linear and mineral driven which is already quite giving and generous. Often these champagnes show well soon after disgorgement and then often close down for a few years. Didier reckons this has long ageing potential. Drink now to 2030.
|Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 2007 | 17.5/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 7 Years | Disgorged: 2015 | Dosage: 6 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 4 Years
Quite a contrast to 2012, this is showing ripe tropical notes like pineapple, peaches and good lees texture adding a roundness to the mid-palate. When you go back a second time you really pick up pink grapefruit notes. Showing well today and entering a good drinking phase over the next five years. Drink now to late 2020s.
|Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Collection 2002 | 17.5+/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 14 Years | Disgorged: 2017 | Dosage: 5.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Years
The tropical fruits and bright apple really come forward and on the palate the rich lees character and fresh bread notes bring a broad and rich texture. Going back after a few minutes you see more peaches and the soft creamy texture really seduces. Long length. Elegant and hitting its lovely sweet spot. Drink now to 2030.
|Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Collection 1999 | 17.5/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 19 Years | Disgorged: February 2019 | Dosage: 5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 4 Months
Less opulent than 2002, there is more citrus fruit with lemon richness and then you see some layers of tropical notes like pineapple. The lees ageing has rounded the mid-palate. Soft and very drinkable, this is hitting a great drinking enjoyment phase now. Drink now to 2026.
Although today Salon is one of the most expensive and widely sought after commercially produced champagnes, it was not originally made with sales figures in mind. When Eugène-Aimé Salon, a Champagne connoisseur enchanted and seduced by the terroir of Le Mesnil, decided to produce the original Blanc de Blancs champagne, he intended to drink it himself. And that he did. With the help of a few fortunate guests of the Maison, Eugène-Aimé enjoyed the first four vintages of Salon, produced between 1905 (the first known vintage) and 1921 (the first commercial vintage), alone.
With the tragedy of the war over, Eugène-Aimé was encouraged by his satiated friends to profit more fully from his wine and thus Champagne Salon was officially born. Since then, it has always been made the same way, from the same 20 parcels of Chardonnay in Le Mesnil. The grapes come from the beautiful 1 hectare ‘Jardin de Salon’ at the rear of the house and from a further 5 hectares purchased from 15 growers with whom they have been doing business “for over a century.” Of course, the vines have since been replanted (the average vine age today is 35 years) and the plots are all roughly on the same latitude in the middle of the village.
Interestingly, the grapes from half of the equally famous Clos du Mesnil vineyard used to go into the Salon blends until 1977, when the owner died and Krug eventually took over. Depond spoke of the importance of maintaining well-established relationships with growers – especially in grand cru Le Mesnil, where a 1 hectare vineyard will fetch anywhere between €3-4 million, according to his best estimate.
We began our tasting with perhaps the most keenly anticipated vintage in Salon’s history. A year that needs no introduction, 2008 would likely have been zealously coveted by Salon fans based on vintage reputation alone. However, Depond fuelled the fire in 2014, declaring Salon 2008 the “best ever” and revealing that it was produced only in magnums. Since then, it seems some admirers have been quite literally counting down the days to its release. Our tasting with Jancis Robinson MW was a world first.
“It was not an easy harvest,” Depond told us, “the quality was good only after a super, super deep selection [of grapes].” Apparently, following the first vins clairs tasting Depond phoned chef de cave Michel Fauconnet (who also oversees winemaking at Laurent-Perrier and Delamotte) and they both had the same idea. “Because the quality was so good but the quantity was so much smaller, we both agreed to produce only magnums.” Although magnums aren’t quite the rarity at Salon that they are at other houses (magnums represent 12-15% of their production, compared with 2-3% elsewhere), their decision was still unexpected.
Already quite accessible for a magnum, Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs 2008 is intense, complex and persistent – Depond likened it to Salon 1982. There is no doubting the hysteria it will cause among investors upon release. There is a twist, however. Salon 2008 will be sold exclusively in a specially designed wooden case that will include two bottles each of Salon 2007, 2006 and 2004. No individual magnums will be sold.
Further, the six bottles of 2007, 2006 and 2004 are all ‘Edition 2019’, having been late-disgorged in January 2019 (along with Salon 2008). They have also all been jetted (squirted with a micro-spray of water immediately after disgorgement to prevent oxygen ingress), a practice Salon have been carrying out fastidiously for the last 10 years. All the champagnes we tasted had been opened three hours prior to our appointment and then re-stoppered.
Depond called 2008 “the dream vintage” but was quick to highlight just how much better it will get. They are famous for producing wines with almost endless ageing potential, and, according to Depond, “it is best to drink Salon after 15 years … before this it is a teenager.” Many may find it difficult to wait quite so long however, as Salon 2008 will be the last release for some time. “Since 2008, there has been no genuinely great vintage in Champagne,” said Depond (including the widely heralded 2012, which Salon did not produce). The next release will be Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs 2014.
|Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs 2008 Magnum | 19.5/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 10 Years | Disgorged: January 2019 | Dosage: 6.2 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 5 Months
A hint of reduction and that smoky charm, there is an abundance of ripe fruit, very generous ripe apples and then you get hints of ripeness with a faint trace of tropical fruits. The magnum has great texture, precision and ripeness. For a recent disgorgement this is currently very generous, so expect it to shine for a year and no doubt close down tight for many years after. Has freshness, power, elegance and a real lightness; it plays on your palate, very fine. Drink now but will be better in at least ten years and last for many decades.
|Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs 2007 | 18/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 11 Years | Disgorged: January 2019 | Dosage: 5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 5 Months
‘Edition 2019’. This is very different to 2008; more green fruits like dried hay and ripe yellow fruits on the palate. Fresh acidity with some creaminess almost going like custard, a little buttery. The longer lees contact showing with the lees richness and a hint more autolytic character. Very good, especially considering it followed the 2008 magnum! Drink now for 20 years.
|Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs 2006 | 18/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 12 Years | Disgorged: January 2019 | Dosage: 5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 5 Months
‘Edition 2019’. This again is quite different to the previous two, some more hints of peaches and apricots along with the bright apple you expect. Not as intense as some vintages, but is delicate and racy on the palate with the lees character adding broadness to the palate. Drink now for 15 years.
|Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs 2004 | 19.5/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 14 Years | Disgorged: January 2019 | Dosage: 5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 5 Months
‘Edition 2019’. Very clean and precise. Starting to show some of that extra lees time, ripe fruit with real precision, power and freshness. Seems more youthful than 2006 and 2007 and I keep going back to the texture, minerality with long lees ageing, and a powerful chalky finish. Very fine, drink now for three decades. I wonder if the 2004 magnum might rival the 2008 over the decades.
|Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs 2002 | 19/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 11 Years | Disgorged: 2014 | Dosage: 5.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 5 Years
This has started to go Burgundian and going very creamy. Dried grass and lots of complexity. Quite tropical, so pineapple and guava and very pure and goes on and on. This is really very expressive right now and perhaps it is having its first real window of enjoyment since release.
|Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs 2002 Magnum | 20/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 10 Years | Disgorged: 2013 | Dosage: 5.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 6 Years
This is less expressive on the nose right now with that reductive smoky note that sits so well with this wine. You can see the youth compared to the bottle, this does seem to have some apple spice and feels broader on the lees mid-palate roundness. Hints of pineapple, orange and roundness and iodine lift a lot at the end. Didier says 50+ years ageing – I went back to it 30 minutes later and it has held very precise and wow the richness has come out even more.
|Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs 1997 | 18.5/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 20 Years | Disgorged: December 2018 | Dosage: 3 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 6 Months
Seems different in character, its very long lees ageing gives it a soft and lazy character, almost like the bubbles move more slowly. Bundles of fruits and dried fruits like tangerine, dried grass and dried lemon. Wow this is looking very good. Concentrated and powerful, was a feminine vintage; very elegant.