Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Visiting Champagne Salon in Le Mesnil-Sur-Oger

My final visit of the Champagne trip was also one of the grandest, a visit to Champagne Salon. It was getting dark when we arrived but Export Director Jean-Baptiste (Tista) Cristini walked us out the back of the house and into a vineyard called Le Jardin.

Most of it was replanted in 2003 and none of the grapes have been used in Salon vintages since then. Still, it was a rush to be standing in one of the 20 vineyards that Salon uses to make their wine.

Salon has been around since the early 1900's, but there isn't a lot of wine to be had. They make one wine and one wine only, a vintage Brut Blanc de Blancs made entirely of Le Mesnil Chardonnay. And they don't make it very often. In the years since 1905 there have been only 37 vintages of Salon to come on the market.

For a Champagne house of such stature, it was a bit startling to see how little wine there is in the cellar. All of the Salon wine from the 1999, 2002, and 2004 vintages - all that there is for the whole world, is in this cellar (that looked kind of like a garage). And there are incredibly few bottles that remain of older vintages.

Walking through the cellars and looking at the few bottles of old wine, I had an experience that brought me quite close to forever etching my bad name in the collective memory of the Champenois. I was marveling at how few bottles there were of some old vintage and Tista spoke to me in a tone that I know well, as I use it when I'm trying to keep calm when, for example, asking my two year-old to put the scissors down. "You might want to move forward a little," he said. Calm, cool, collected. But I sensed the unspoken urgency in his voice and stepped forward, slowly. "You almost just knocked over our last 8 bottles of 1943 Salon, the year of the death of Mr. Salon himself." I honestly felt the bottles touching my coat as I stepped away.

Sighs of relief, nervous laughter. Tista decided to offer us a special treat, and picked out a bottle of 1982 Salon to disgorge right then, à la volée. Then we went upstairs to the tasting room.

Tista, by the way, will be married in a matter of two weeks, to his girlfriend of at least ten years. He will not wear the odd hat in this photo, made of white flowers and wire to his wedding. He will, however, be completely charming, as he always is. Congratulations on your wedding Tista, and all the best to you and your soon-to-be wife!

All together we tasted five vintages of Salon, including the 1999 which will be released in May of 2011. I have so little experience drinking Salon wines that my notes are useless, lacking in context. But I will tell you that each of the wines showed a regal presence, amazing depth, and sheer class of raw material. The 1982 was interesting because it was quite reductive at first. I enjoyed it anyway, its richness and class not completely obscured. We drank it hours later at Tista's house with dinner and it opened up beautifully, showing lovely mushroom notes, a palpable chalkiness, and great balance and finesse.

This was a wonderful way to close out my first visit to Champagne, by tasting the storied wines of Salon.

1 comment:

jqmunro said...

The 1990 Salon I had last night was quite a treat. Nothing like Salon from '82 and '88, with little oxidative notes showing impressive youthfulness. I am very jealous that you had the opportunity to visit one of the finest houses in Champagne!