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Just released. Twinkly-eyed Didier Depond, p resident of Champagne Salon and in his 20th year at the company, explains that the heatwave conditions of 2003 had a significant influence on 2004: low ground water meant warmer soils, promoting growth and minimising disease. Abundant fruit set so that they took the unusual step of carrying out a green harvest. A cool August prolonged the ripening season, then September was fine for the harvest. As always, 100% Chardonnay from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, aged at least 10 years on the lees. Disgorged autumn 2015 with a dosage of 5-6 g/l. Incidentally, importers Corney & Barrow suggest drink dates from now to 2050+, and tasting the older wines in this line-up, I can see it will continue a lot longer than I have suggested but it does turn into a very different drink. Very refined light lemony nose with a slightly dusty character, almost like sherbet but not sweet. Biscuity note softens the really crisp and elegant lemon flavour. Tiny bubbles, and smoothed by the creamy lees texture. Very youthful and so tight. So light on its feet but incredibly long. Julia Harding MW
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.
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.
Dosage: 5 g/l
The 2004 vintage displays all the qualities expected of Salon : complexity, purity, freshness. But beyond this, there is a sense of serenity, promising many years of anticipation before the wine reaches its ineffable peak.
Like a volcano, deceptively still, Champagne Salon 2004 gives a quiet taste of the future, while affirming its power even now. Its lively clean attack, intense freshness and minerality do not belie the wine’s aromatic promise : impressive for its notes of minerals, gunflint, stones, smoked tea leaves, the touch of mint ; redolent of the ocean with its iodine, seaweed tang.
Taut and edgy in the mouth, the wine is all purity and fine acidity. Magnificent and saline, this great white wine, even now in its youth, gives a glimpse of chardonnay’s rich potential with its brioche, warm bread and fresh yeast characters. The wine becomes rounder as it airs in the glass, revealing a beautiful vinosity, the curve counter-balancing its acidity to perfection. And on the finish, the merest hint of bitterness, the signature of so many truly great wines.