Wednesday, December 30, 2015
SALON CHAMPAGNE - EXPENSIVE & ELUSIVE
Last weekend after serving white, red, and sparkling wines along with classic martinis at my friend's Mad Men-themed cocktail party and the house was mostly back in order, we sat down with leftover catered platters and a bottle of Champagne I had gifted her earlier this year. After I poured it into her Waterford Champagne flute, she took a sip.
I was expecting the clouds to burst open and the angels to sing. What I got, instead, was a face registering dislike and disappointment. Ah. Well. Not the look I was going for. But I wasn't surprised. The wine was the 1999 Salon Le Mesnil-sur-Oger Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Champagne, and while most critics agree it is in its drinking window, it is clearly a wobbly toddler at best.
Salon is one of the only Champagnes produced that is not ready to drink upon release. The grand cru vineyard with old vine Chardonnay produces fruit with even more acid than is typical for Champagne, and nothing is done in the winemaking process to soften it.
As the wine opened up in the glass, it began to show the character of the fruit and its cool chalky vineyard. It also went flat quickly, as the bottom of the Waterford stems was flat, not inverted like an upside triangle, a design that allows the natural effervescence to bubble up continuously. So there we were, with a pricey bottle, hefty expectations, and flat wine.
The last time my friend had Salon was a decade ago, 2005, in my Champagne class at the CIA Greystone Rudd Center for Professional Development. It was the 1985 vintage, and that wine at 20 years old was in its prime, all honeyed and nutty with a soft minerality and an ethereal, fine bead (sparkle). So that is what she was expecting. Instead she got austere texture, sour green, pungent mineral and funky flavors ramped up even more by its prevalent and keen acidity.
We vowed to make the tasting of 1999 Salon a new holiday tradition. This time around, at 16 years in, the experience was interesting. We're hoping for a bit more maturity at year 20.
1999 Salon Le Mesnil-sur-Oger Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Champagne 12% $350
Elegant, fine and lean with smoky, chalky, tarry mineral notes, feral, nutty, mushroomy Meursault-like notes, and citrus and green apple on the long, expressive finish. This is not a showstopper but rather an incredible expression of one of the best Chardonnay vineyards in Champagne.