The Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin describes the Salon Brut Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs as “the Champagne lovers’ Champagne.” Even in the rarefied world of prestige vintage cuvees, Salon is in a class of its own!
Founded by Eugène Aimé Salon in the early 20th century, Champagne Salon makes only one wine and only in years when the vintage is deemed to be exceptional. Just 38 vintages, an average of about four a decade, have been released since the first commercial vintage of 1921.
Salon began his career as an apprentice cellar master in Champagne, but ambition soon took him to Paris where he became a very successful furrier and a connoisseur of fine Champagne. In the early 1900s Salon purchased a prime chardonnay grand cru vineyard in the Le Mesnil-sur-Oger commune of the Côte des Blancs, and then set out to prove that the terroir could produce a Champagne from chardonnay so complete that it would make the addition of pinot noir or pinot meunier unnecessary.
As fortune would have it, the terroir of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger is quite similar to Burgundy’s Montrachet, the home of the world’s most famous chardonnay. Both terroirs are blessed with high levels of chalk, which not only helps the soil to retain much needed moisture during the summer months but imparts the wine with very special aromas and flavours.
Martin believes this special terroir is what gives Salon a crucial advantage over other Blanc de Blancs: “The more I reflected upon it, the more parallels I could see with Montrachet: that minerality, the poise and definition, the need for time to unlock its complexity and nuances.” (Salon by Neal Martin, Wine Advocate, November 2006)
Ageability is indeed an important hallmark of the Salon style. This is a wine that spends at least 10 years on lees and needs at least another decade or two in bottle to be fully appreciated. Wine critic Huon Hooke was effusive in his praise for a 1988 magnum, recently tasted in 2012:
Full yellow, the lightest colour of the five Champagne magnums (spanning 1988 to 90) at this dinner. A magnificent wine; superbly aged toasty non-malo chardonnay character; fresh, lively, intense and long in the mouth. Traces of vanilla panettone. Fragrant and delicious. A sublime wine. 99 points. (HuonHooke.com, 6 October 2012)
Salon’s three hectare parcel, known as Jardin de Salon, is augmented by 20 smaller parcels in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, owned by contract growers originally selected by Eugène Aimé Salon not long after he founded the House. All grapes are hand-picked and fermentation is initially carried out in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. Malolactic fermentation is suppressed in order to retain acidity and create the signature fresh, vibrant style. The bottles are riddled and disgorged by hand, and only a minimal amount of dosage is added after disgorgement.
Once the wine is deemed ready to market, disgorgement occurs every six months until the roughly 40,000 to 50,000 bottles and 5,000 magnums per vintage are finally released. In years when the vintage is not up to scratch the grapes are used for a tiny proportion of the blend for Salon’s sister house, the venerable Delamotte, which was founded in 1760. Both houses have been owned by the Laurent-Perrier group since 1989.