Champagne Salon showed its 2004 vintage for the first time earlier this month. Following on from the fêted 2002, this is the second release from the new millennium and just the 34th release ever. To mark the occasion, Salon president Didier Depond decided to host a vertical tasting the like of which hasn’t been seen since 1999.“There are more and more people now who love old champagne,” he said at the tasting at the Wapping offices of his UK importer, Corney & Barrow. “It’s a relatively new concept that has become increasingly and noticeably popular over the last 5-7 years.
“Or perhaps I should say a new-old concept. You know 70 years ago it was the English taste to enjoy champagne with a touch of oxidation. This has come back now and it’s not so much older people with cellars and wine collections who are enjoying it. We’re noticing a lot of young people taking an interest in old champagne which they search for on websites and online forums.
”Old champagne is not always easy to find – especially not in the case of Salon. The champagne was created in the early 1900s by Eugène-Aimé Salon, an obsessive perfectionist, who had made his money as a furrier. Salon is a blanc de blancs only ever produced as a vintage wine, from chardonnay grown in the grand cru of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. It was first made in 1911; the 2004 is the 39th release in its history.
For this very special vertical tasting in London, Depond had selected 10 vintages, “Of wines he had tasted recently and thought would be interesting to look at,” explained Corney & Barrow’s Rebeccca Palmer. They were: the 2004, 2002, 1999, 1997, 1996, 1990, 1988, 1971 and 1966.
The ’66 and the ’71 came directly from Salon’s cellar and had been disgorged three weeks previously. The 2004 was already showing more evolution than the 2002, opening with quite a lot of spice and opulent power compared to the sleeker, more arrow-like lines of the 2002. For me, it was interesting to note the transformation of the wine through its varying stages of evolution. At 14 years old (the 2002) this wine still looks astonishingly young. In the older wines, notes of umami (mushrooms and parmesan, bathed in golden light), and a slight rancio taste begin to creep in. Mature champagne is an entirely different drink and taste to the young stuff. The 1990 was my least favourite; hung about with a smell of old, closed houses. But the 1971 had prettiness, elegance and the light lift of fine cobwebs.
Defond said that in his opinion, “the best time to start drinking Salon is 15 years from the vintage and, for me, good Salon is after 25 years. Salon needs time. It needs ageing.”
42,000 bottles and 3,000 magnums of Salon were produced in 2004.
This Champagne is produced from a one-hectare parcel owned by Salon: "Salon’s garden", and from 19 other smaller parcels in Mesnil-sur-Oger, chosen by Aimé Salon at the beginning of the century. The wines are cellared in the bottle for an average of 10 years, gaining in complexity and finesse.
The proof that memory and history are important is shown by the bottles in the cellars from nearly all the vintages that have ever been produced at Salon. Headed by Aimé Salon until his death in 1943, the house was then left to his nephew. In 1988, Champagne Laurent-Perrier, a family-owned company, became the majority shareholder of Champagne Salon.