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The 1959 Salon is the first of two wines served blind towards the end of this vertical. Although the 1959 retains considerable power for a wine of its age, it is also past peak. Hints of orange peel, butter, spice and brown butter give the 1959 its oxidative, fully mature personality. The 1959 is not my cup of tea, but readers who like very aged Champagne might find some pleasure in the 1959, a wine that is hanging on to the very final vestiges of life at this stage.
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.
Made from 100% Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs grand cru vineyard, Le Mesnil-sur- Oger. The densely planted vines are located on the mid-slope in chalky soil, and the Cordon de Royat method of trellising is used, which allows access to the soil at the base of the vines.
The grapes are picked and sorted by hand. Only the first pressing, or cuvée, is used. This is the lightest, freshest juice, containing the highest percentage of acidity, which is essential to the evolution and vivacity of the Champagne. The first fermentation takes place in a stainless steel tank. The wine receives no oak exposure and does not undergo malolactic fermentation.
The wine is cellared in the bottle for an average of 10 years, gaining in complexity and finesse. Riddling is done by hand. All bottles are disgorged within 8 months of the first disgorgement, also by hand.
Far too few have had the opportunity to be able to taste Salon in full bloom. Many argue, with some justification, that they are either steely, undeveloped acid parcels or oxidative, fallen fruit bombs. It is certainly true that Salon will need many years to develop full maturity and that they are made in an old-fashioned, malic acid, patience-testing style; however, to say that also sometimes mature too quickly and become over-matured is a misunderstanding. What happens is that the wines in the ‘interphase’ take on notes reminiscent of oxidation due to the ripening of the grapes at harvest, before the rich buttery nutty style is fully developed. The flavour spectrum, shades of straw, overripe apples and figs, is allowed a great deal of leeway. This is a strange but very obvious phenomenon when you have time to follow a vintage of Salon through its life journey.
My oldest Salon comes from the rare and mediocre vintage of 1932, and it turned out to be both really wonderful and youthful. Wines from the forties and fifties are probably the best and 1928 Salon is at the top of my wish list of champagnes I have not yet tasted. We had several healthy sceptics within the test group, but everyone agreed about the need for mature experiences in order to be fully able to understand the very young specimens, and that time transforms these narrow and hard youngsters into complex mature beauties.
Recommended glass shape
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