Billecart-Salmon Masterclass

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Last night, we were treated to a once in a lifetime opportunity at K&L, a Masterclass on Champagne Billecart-Salmon led by Mathieu Roland-Billecart. Mathieu is the 7th generation of the family to lead this great house which has been in business for 201 years. Elsa Baez, who assists me with the Champagne in Redwood City and Scott Beckerley who does the same in San Francisco, both came down to join me in tasting and learning.

The occasion for Mathieu’s tour of the USA is the upcoming release of two very special wines, the 2008 Billecart-Salmon Vintage Champagne and the 2002 Billecart-Salmon "Le Clos Saint-Hilaire" Brut Blanc de Noirs Champagne. Neither of these vintages need much introduction, as they are certainly the two best in a generation. While neither of these are available now, they should be here early August, and you can use the links above to get onto the waiting lists if you are interested.

We started off with the always fabulous Billecart-Salmon "Brut Réserve" Champagne which was, as always, super refreshing, understated, and elegant. The perfect balance of this wine, which is composed of 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Meunier, and 20% Pinot Noir, I put down to the generous use of reserve wines which make up half of the blend. The long, cold fermentations that the house pioneered decades ago brings the wine its perfect snappy, chalky, long finish. What a great start!

I feel the 2008 Vintage is a wine for the ages. I am lucky enough to say that this was my 2nd time tasting it, the last time was in Mareuil at the property. This bottle, like the first I tried, reminded me very much of the 1996s that I tasted when they were just being released. The wine had beautiful toasted brioche, perfect creaminess and lovely nutty complexity married to nearly laser like precision and chalkiness. This is not just a concentrated vintage Champagne, it is a packed one! It is composed of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay, but at this moment it seems like the numbers could be flipped. I think this is going to age for many, many years and develop into a legend. The problem is going to be keeping away from it so it can age— it is showing beautifully today. The dosage is very low, just four grams per liter, but the balance tastes like a dry brut, not an extra brut.

We are guilty of impacting the world supply by tasting the 2002 Clos St. Hilaire, as only 3700 bottles, one press load, were made. They have waited 17 years to release this wine, which is coming in August, and it is worth the wait! The Clos St. Hilaire is not only small production, it is a rare breed, an all Pinot Noir powerhouse that combines the haunting, vinous savory of the best of Volnay with the nearly nougat-like, creamy, pastry crust leesy quality found in the best of Champagne. It is only dosed at 1 gram per liter, but like the 2008, it was in perfect brut balance at this tiny level of dosage. To witness such power aromatically, and to experience such concentration of flavors in the mouth, I expected it to finish heavy, but no! The finish is as bright as it is long, and typing this the morning after I can almost still taste it. Mathieu explained that the power comes from the short pruned, very old vines, while the refreshment comes from not only the quality of the chalk, but also from the proximity of the press to the clos. The pickers simply walk their baskets to the press and dump them in!

This was an unforgettable evening. Thank you so much Mathieu for putting on such a great tasting for us!

A toast to you- Gary

Gary Westby