Champagne Summit Kick Off—Featuring Billecart-Salmon

Recently, we kicked off our annual Champagne Team Staff Summit with a wonderful sushi dinner hosted by Billecart-Salmon and Mr. Clement Calleja. It was wonderful to spend an evening learning about these fabulous Champagnes and having the opportunity to try them all with food and over time. We checked in on most of the range.


Right from the beginning, these wines were showing great, and the current batch of the Billecart-Salmon "Brut Réserve" Champagne is the best one I can remember tasting. What we have on the shelf right now is based on 2015, with almost 60% reserves, the most ever for this wine. Nearly all of the 2015 in the blend is Meunier from four villages right at the heart of the valley of the Marne, Cumieres, Venteuil, Mardeuil, and Villemongeois, while the reserves are almost all Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in roughly equal proportions. The dosage is low at 7g/l, but the wine is in lovely balance. This has the freshness that everyone loves in Billecart Reserve, but more texture and detail. There is complexity for those who want to look for it yet this remains super easy to drink.

We were all surprised at just how well Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé Champagne went with the sushi, as I had always thought of this pairing as best with blanc de blancs or extra brut styles. When Clement explained that this rosé is about the Chardonnay first, it made the magic with the fish make sense. The limiting factor for the production of this wine is the 6% red wine that is added, and they only use 70-plus-year-old vines from Mareuil, Ambonnay, and Bouzy.

He treated us to the west coast premiere of the 2007 Billecart-Salmon "Cuvee Louis-Salmon" Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne, which contains only grand cru Chardonnay from Mesnil, Cramant, and Chouilly. This wine sees 25% barrel fermentation in used barrels from Burgundy and has a real Chassagne-Montrachet feel to it, with both luxurious creaminess, clean white fruit, and a fabulously long and chalky back end. We revisited the 2008 Billecart-Salmon Vintage Champagne, which is slowly opening and reminds me so much of the greatest 1996s when they were young. It is composed of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay and is all Grand Cru plus a little Mareuil Premier cru. If you don’t have some of this in your cellar, get some before it is gone, this has nougat, toast, and linear acidity to die for!

One of my favorite tête de cuvée Champagnes in stock is the 2006 Billecart-Salmon "Cuvée Nicolas François Billecart" NFB Brut Champagne, and it was shining last night. I loved it with the shrimp tempura roll, and also loved just having it on its own after we cleaned our plates. This is composed of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay from Grand Cru vineyards and is 30% barrel fermented. This is polished, elegant Champagne for connoisseurs who search for wines of depth and are tired of flash. I wrote “luxury” in big letters in my notebook and loved it for the cream, nougat, clean white fruit, and impossibly detailed finish.

Clement suggested that we taste the Billecart-Salmon "Sous Bois" Brut Champagne with Comté cheese, and I just happened to have some in our little cheese vault. This Champagne is entirely barrel fermented and composed of 1/3 each Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Meunier. They block the malolactic fermentation on this wine, so even though the oak gives it texture and some mid-palate umph, it still stays very fresh. This is a long-aged wine, based on 2011 and with more than 50% reserves. Even though it is rich and toasty upfront, the airy elegance of Billecart still comes through beautifully. It was one of the best cheese and Champagne pairings I have ever had.

Thank you, Clement, for the great start to our Champagne summit!

A toast to you!
Gary Westby


Gary Westby