Billecart Salmon: 2008 Vintage and 2002 Clos St. Hilaire Preview

I have been looking forward to my meeting with Mathieu Rolland-Billecart for months, and finally had the opportunity this past weekend to go to Mareuil to taste his amazing Champagnes. I had the pleasure of being joined by both Clyde and Kerri Beffa. They are in Champagne starting a marathon trip in France that will culminate with the 2018 en primeur tastings in Bordeaux. Mathieu just took over the job of CEO at Billecart-Salmon from his cousin Francois Rolland-Billecart and it was an honor for me that he took the time to see us on a Saturday.

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Mathieu is a young, dynamic man who spent many years working in London and the 7th generation to run the company. I am embarrassed to say that his English is better than mine, and it was great to spend time learning about the 2018 harvest and the new releases with him. We started with the 2018 vin clairs and Mathieu had selected the perfect four to give us a little tour of Champagne in base wine. We tasted Chardonnay from Cramant, Meunier from Damery and Pinot Noir from both Ay and the home base for Billecart, Mareuil-sur-Ay. Mathieu explained that in 2018, they blocked the malolactic on nearly every wine, but also pointed out that this was not a systematic, but rather a lot by lot choice by the chef de cave, Florent Nys and his team. Given the softness of the 2018 harvest, it was the best choice for nearly everything.

After tasting the clean, expressive, top quality vin clair we moved on to Champagne. On the way to K&L right now there are two great new vintage releases. First we previewed the 2008 Vintage, which is a blend of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay, dosed at just 4g/l. While the similarities between the 2008’s and the 1996’s are well known, this wine made me right 1996 with a big exclamation point because of the resemblance. The generous toasted brioche and cream of the aromatics jumped right out of the glass. On the palate, the wine was super refined, with a perfect bead, gentle texture and complex flavors of nuts and subtle Pinot fruit. The back end was pure, chalky, and driven. This is one of the top wines of this great vintage.

The 2008 was a tough act to follow, but Mathieu was generous enough to open one of only 3700 bottles of the 2002 Clos St. Hilaire for us. This monumental blanc de noirs is made from a walled vineyard that is inside the grounds of Billecart-Salmon in Mareuil. They carry the baskets by hand from the vineyard to the press house, as it is only a few meters away! All though it is dosed at only 1g/l of sugar, it has on a scale of power rarely seen in Champagne. Loaded with Nutella, truffle like savor and still lifted by chalky cut, this wine expands on the finish like only the best wines in the world do. My words fail me. Don’t hesitate when this arrives- 3700 bottles is not enough for the world!

A toast to you!

Gary Westby

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Gary Westby