Champagnes Salon & Delamotte 1959-2007
Salon remains one of Champagne’s most mystical and elusive
wines. Since 1905, the house has declared just thirty-nine vintages. This
vertical tasting of Salon and sister property Delamotte provided a great opportunity
to revisit a number of reference point vintages and also taste the latest
started off as a simple tasting turned into something much more
elaborate than I could have ever imagined when I first made my appointment at
Salon. Salon/Delamotte President Didier Depond dug deep into the cellars and
opened a stunning range of older wines for a small group of tasters. The Salon vintages went all the way back to
1959. We also tasted a number of older Delamottes back to the 1970.
When Salon does not declare a vintage, the wines go to
Delamotte, Salon’s sister property and neighbor. Because of that, the Delamotte
Champagnes are often mentioned as an after thought. That is a shame, because the
Delamotte Champagnes deserve to be appreciated on their own terms, a point that
is made eloquently in tasting top-flight vintages such as 2004 and 1996 that
were declared at both houses.
Stylistically, the two wines are quite different.
Delamotte’s vintage Blanc de Blancs, a blend of fruit from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger,
Oger, Avize and Cramant, is made in a relatively open-knit style. Unlike Salon,
Delamotte sees full malolactic fermentation, which softens the edges and gives
it the creaminess to drink well with minimal cellaring. Delamotte’s
late-released Collection Champagnes, spend more time on their lees and
generally see a bit less dosage than the original release. I have been
fortunate to taste quite a few of the Collection wines over the last few years.
At their best, they are truly special.
Salon is a much more reticent Champagne. All of the fruit is
sourced exclusively from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, starting with a parcel that is
right behind the main house. The natural focus and drive of Mesnil is
accentuated by the blocked-malo style. As a result, Salon requires extended
time on its lees, which also makes it one of the last tête
de cuvées to be released.
Production hovers around 60,000 bottles per vintage, give or take, which is miniscule
by the standards of Champagne
The entrance to the
cellar at Salon
Champagne Delamotte: Blanc
de Blancs 2007-1970
This flight of Delamotte Champagnes shows how the best
vintages can drink well young, but also age. Some of the older Collection wines
in this flight are truly remarkable.
Delamotte’s 2007 Blanc
de Blancs is deep, fleshy and seductive, with lovely textural depth and
nuance throughout. The 2007 is a relatively soft, open-knit Delamotte that will
drink well upon release. I especially admire the wine's sense of balance and
overall proportion, two of the many qualities that give the 2007 its
considerable appeal. The 2004 Blanc de Blancs has developed notable aromatic
complexity and nuance over the last few years. Smoke, slate, candied lemon and
crushed rocks are some of the signatures. Striking in its precision and nuance,
the 2004 is once again absolutely brilliant. Simply put, the 2004 is a
phenomenal Delamotte that shows just how compelling this vintage is in the Côte
A late-release from the Delamotte, the 1999 Blanc de Blancs Collection is a gorgeous Champagne for drinking now and over the
next decade or two. Extended time on the lees has given the 1999 much of its
texture and overall nuance. Honey, chamomile, hazelnut, dried herbs and
apricots form an attractive fabric of scents, aromas and textures. Still quite
young, the 1999 has enough freshness to drink well for many years. The 1999 is made
in an especially big, phenolic style for Delamotte. Another superb wine, the 1996 Blanc de Blancs Collection
(magnum) opens with striking, slightly reductive aromatics. Slate, peach,
apricot pit, chamomile and lightly honeyed notes are all beautifully delineated
throughout. The 1996 is a vinous, rich Delamotte that is peaking today.
Brilliant in the glass, yet also pliant and deep, the 1996 impresses with its
exceptional balance and total class. From magnum, the 1996 is especially fine.
The 1995 Blanc de
Blancs is soft, open-knit and ready to go. A host of yellow stone fruits, wild
flowers and lightly honeyed notes flesh out as the 1995 shows off its radiant
personality. A slightly mushroomy note suggests the 1995 is mature. Any
remaining bottles need to be finished off. Delamotte's 1985 Blanc de Blancs Collection is the product of a freakish
vintage with a brutally cold winter and spring followed by a very hot summer.
Rich, powerful and concentrated in the glass, the 1985 is decidedly voluptuous
in feel. Scents of hazelnut, orange peel, caramel and earthiness add nuance through
to the vinous, textured finish. The 1985 is peaking today, which makes it an
excellent choice for drinking over the next handful of years.
Tasted from magnum, the 1970
Blanc de Blancs Collection is just as fabulous as it was the last time I
tasted it a few years ago. Specifically, the 1970 offers a striking combination
of nuance that has developed in bottle over the last 45 years, yet it also
retains remarkable freshness. Scents of orange peel, nutmeg, cinnamon, herbs
and honey add intrigue, but it is the wine's timelessness that impresses most.
What a great way to wrap up this tasting. Readers who have a chance to taste
the 1970 Delamotte Collection from magnum should not hesitate, as it is truly
Spectacular. With a capital S.
It is hard to pick a highlight or two in this stunning set
of Salons back to 1954. The trio of recent stellar vintages – 2002, 1996 and
1988 – all show beautifully. The just-released 2004 looks like it will take its
place among the truly epic editions of Salon. Among the older wines, I
especially like the 1961. Both the 1959 and 1964 are past prime in my view,
but, then again, that is part of what makes wine such a personal experience. In
this tasting, all of the Salons from 1995 and older, except the 1959 and 1964,
were disgorged à la volée, with no
dosage, which means the bottles are not fully representative of the
commercially available versions of those wines.
The 2004 Salon
has been superb each time I have tasted it over the last year or so. Bright,
tense and crystalline, with all of the energy that is typical of both Salon and
the vintage in the Côte des Blancs, the 2004 bristles with superb precision and
cool, pulsating minerality. The 2004 spent a dozen years on its lees. Over the
last six months or so, it has gradually begun to open up, but it is very much a
wine for the cellar. Two thousand four is remembered as a vintage with record
high yields. Salon (and Delamotte) did a terrific job in keeping the vines well
balanced. Production was just 46,000 bottles, as opposed to the 60,000 or so
that is more typical. Chef
de Caves Michel Fauconnet opted for a low dosage of just 4 grams per liter.
This is a tremendous showing. Another highlight in this vertical, the 2002 Salon is also fascinating to taste
after the 2004. Rich, opulent and intense, yet also very classic in the Salon
house style, the 2002 possesses superb persistence and depth. The radiant
vintage has softened the contours and given the wine fabulous depth to match
its decidedly powerful personality. At the same time, the 2002 remains quite
youthful. Next to the brighter and more finessed 2004, the 2002 offers more of a
baritone-inflected expression of Chardonnay.
The 2004 ages on its
lees in the cellar
The 1999 belongs
to the family of warm, ripe vintage at Salon.
An atypically big, dense wine by Salon standards, the 1999 is somewhat
one-dimensional and not likely to improve considerably from here. At the same
time, the 1999 has more than enough depth to drink well for a number of years.
All things considered, the 1999 has held up well. Didier Depond, the house’s
President, describes 1999 as a year with very hot, sunny weather during the
summer and into the harvest. Late season rains were an issue for the Pinot, but
not for the Chardonnay. One of the surprises in this vertical, the 1997 Salon is super-polished, delicate
and refined. The 1997 offers lovely detail and nuance throughout. Hints of candied
lemon peel, white flowers and white pepper add an element of brightness that
complements the wine's natural richness. Although 1997 doesn't belong to the
group of elite vintages at Salon, it does come close to that level. Perhaps
even more importantly, the 1997 is aging gracefully and should continue to
drink nicely for a number of years.
The 1996 Salon is
just beginning to enter the early part of its plateau of maturity. Time in
bottle has softened some of the razor-sharp focus the 1996 had when it was
first released, but all of the energy it had as a young Champagne remains. A
host of candied lemon, almonds and wild flowers punctuate the sculpted,
persistent finish. Readers who own the 1996 can look forward to another two
decades or more of exceptional drinking. This is the ultimate expression of
Champagne as wine.
The 1995 Salon,
disgorged à la volée and naturally sans dosage, is rich, ample and creamy.
In this vertical, the 1995 stands out for its broad, ample frame and
tropically-leaning overtones. So often, Salon is a Champagne of tension and
focus. Even without dosage, the 1995 is distinctly more ample than is the norm
and yet all the elements come together nicely just the same.
One of the few disappointments in this tasting, the 1990 Salon comes across as oddly
evolved and disjointed today. It is hard to believe this is a representative
bottle. After the lackluster 1990, things get back on track quickly with the 1988 Salon, a wine that is absolutely
peaking today. From one of the all-time great vintages in Champagne the 1988
Salon exudes power and explosive intensity, with superb balance and pulsating
acidity that gives the wine its drive. A host of candied lemon peel, hazelnut,
smoke, licorice and anise overtones meld into the super-expressive finish.
The remaining stock of
The 1973 Salon is
one of the most exotic and flamboyant wines in this tasting. Now at the
absolute peak of its maturity, the 1973 graces the senses with hints of orange
peel, burnt sugar, butter and smoke. Even with all of its depth and creaminess,
the 1973 possesses tons of nuance, not to mention considerable personality.
What a pleasure it is to taste the 1961
Salon. Timeless, elegant and super polished, the 1961 has aged exceptionally
well. The candied lemon, white flower and almond nuances offer lovely
freshness, especially for a wine of this age. Today, the 1961 is sublime. I
don't know that there is too much more I can add, except to say this is about
as good as it gets for mature Champagne.
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. The 1964 Salon, also served blind, is
frankly past the point where I find pleasure in wine. The hazelnut, orange
peel, tobacco, honey, caramel, spice and mushroom notes are fully tertiary.
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-- Antonio Galloni