Billecart- Salmon – Understated Elegance.

Visiting Champagne is always a treat.  The treat this time is that I also had the family in tow, a celebratory long weekend of birthdays and anniversaries.  This was to be their first wine tour and our first family holiday all together since childhood.  What could go wrong?

photo by Leif Carlsson

I decided that the best way for my siblings to understand the magic of this effervescent drink was for us to take in the diversity of what the region has to offer. So we based ourselves in Epernay, the regions capital in a gite at the start of the Avenue de Champagne  – a famous street lined with the HQ’s of many leading champagne producers such as Moet et Chandon, Mercier and De Castellane.  The trip was to include a visit to a small organic vineyard, several tours of the major well-known champagne houses and a private tasting organised by yours truly @TheGrapeWizard.   But the highlight and the most anticipated was to the most admired producer in the industry, Billecart-Salmon in Mareuil-sur-Ay.

photo by Leif Carlsson

Maison Billecart-Salmon is a small-medium family-owned producer at the very top end and as you might imagine they are not able to say yes to all of the huge number of visitor requests.  So it was with excitement, anticipation and a sense of awe that, like an excited herd of young billy goats,  we all trotted off on our last day.

Pulling up to the house we were not disappointed; an elegant building of tan coloured stones, luxurious yet understated.  Jerome, our guide for the tour, greeted us warmly.  Elegantly dressed, with refined manners and a subtle galliac dry humour he had us all transfixed.

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TheGrapeWizard & Jerome

History was made 200 years ago, in 1818, when Nicolas François Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon who owned a vineyard were married, marking the creation of their Champagne House. Ever since, through 7 generations, each member of the family has stayed faithful to the motto: “Give priority to quality, strive for excellence”.

Our tour started outside at the esteemed 1 hectare vineyard Clos Saint Hilaire (which is about the size of Twickenham’s rugby field).

photo by Leif Carlsson

Clos St Hilaire

A Clos is a parcel of vines enclosed by a wall on 3 sides.  Whilst grapes of different vintages and vineyards are blended, a Clos Champagne is made from the grapes from a single parcel of land.  There are only around 20 Clos in the Champagne region and since one vine produces only around 5 bottles of wine you understand the cost of this most rare of vintages.  The vines, soil and subsoil are farmed bio-dynamically with the use of draft horses and even grazing sheep to keep the weeds down!

photo by Leif Carlsson

The Clos Saint-Hilaire creates an exceptional champagne exclusively from Pinot Noir on limited release of between 3,500 to 7,500 individually numbered bottles and only in vintage years.

The champagnes of Maison Billecart-Salmon are created thanks to the knowledge of the men who rigorously cultivate an estate of 100 hectares, across 40 crus of the Champagne region combined with a complex and thorough blending process supervised by the elderly head of the family Monsieur Antoine Roland-Billecart. The majority of the grapes used for vinification come from a radius of 20km around Epernay, where the Grand Crus of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay co-exist, in the ethereal vineyards of the Montagne de Reims, the Vallée de la Marne and the Côte des Blancs.

The Cuverie

photo by Leif Carlsson

As part of the ever present quest to raise the quality of their champagnes, in the Fifties, the House were the first to use the technique of cold settling (normally used in the brewing industry)

The “cold settling” step involves letting the pressed juice, skins, and sometimes stems settle overnight in a vat for up to three days wherein the solids sink to the bottom. Typical temperatures for this process are between 41-50 degrees fahrenheit (5-10 Celcius). The purpose of this step is to clarify the juice to prevent off-flavors from being present in the final product. Once the suspended particles have settled, the clear juice is transferred, or racked to another vat or fermentation vessel. This is really only used for the production of whites and rosés.

combined with the use of stainless steel tanks for a longer fermentation at a lower temperature. The vinification is carried out cru by cru, grape variety by grape variety which allows for conservation of the full range of characteristics of the terroir to be captured.  The low temperature encourages the most delicate ofaromas and allows all the purity of the fruit to be expressed. The elegance produced is the absolute signature of the Billicart-Salmon style.

Next on the tour was a visit to the Chais (wineries) one of which is a brand new state-of-the-art room built to celebrate Billicart’s bicentenary.  They house 400 small and 24 gigantic oak casks where the wine is vinified in oak to reveal all its richness and aromatic complexity to create their latest cuvee “Sous Bois”.

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The bottled wine then makes it’s way down to the chalk cellars which date from 17th and 19th centuries. Over three to four years, the non-vintage champagnes really blossom, staying around twice as long as the fixed regulations of the appellation. The vintage cuvées patiently wait ten years before they begin to reveal their maturity.

Allowing time to play its role is behind the grandeur of Billecart-Salmon champagnes.

And time now to savour the results. It did not disappoint.  Tasting notes below.

If you want to learn more about Billecart-Salmon, catching up with an interview with Mathieu Roland-Billecart, the current CEO and the Chef de Caves then please go over to my website www.thegrapewizard.com. Simply sign up with your Email.

Tasting Notes

IMG_2002Billecart- Salmon Cuvee Elizabeth Brut Rose 2007

A salmon pink appearance with a whiff of red berries, citrus peel and stone fruits. Some would say fresh figs, white peach, almond macarons. A delight !

On the mouth a mixture of nectarine and cardamom – exposing the elegance of a tangy mandarin together with delicate flavours of cedar and exotic wood.

Pair with creamy poultry, langoustines and /or  crunchy hibiscus macarons.

Serve at: 11-12°C

GW Rating 5/5

Photo 11-02-2019, 11 45 15Billecart- Salmon Cuvee Louis Brut Blanc de Blanc 2006

APPEARANCE
golden yellow hue and a few green glints of youth.
PALATE
A beautifully refreshing flavours of citron zest, peach and white pepper
AROMA
whipped cream, white flowers and citrus fruits
Pair matches such as turbot or a creamy shellfish risotto.
Serve at: 11-12°C
GW Rating 5/5

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Billecart- Salmon Cuvee Nicolas Francois Brut 2006

APPEARANCE: yellow gold veiled in luminous golden reflections.

PALATE:honeyed notes associated with stone fruits with aromas of citrus zest.

AROMA: preserved peaches, fine apple tart and lemon verbena tea

Pair with roasted poultry or a turbot in a creamy sauce.

Serve at: 11-12°C

GW Rating 5/5

photo by Leif CarlssonBillecart-Salmon Extra Brut

APPEARANCE

A pale gold intensity.

PALATE: biscuity flavor with notes of white flesh fruits

AROMA :dried fruits and brioche combined with floral notes. Subtle notes of lemon verbena.

TASTING: Pair with prawns, grilled scallops and ceviche.

GW Rating 4/5

As for the family dynamics and the smooth running of a 4 day getaway for the first time ever… well thats a story for another day !

Any more info wanted on Billecart-Salmon please contact me. Truly a delicious wine and a fabulous House.

MUSIC Pairing 

 

GW

Wimbledon 2017 : Strawberries and Champagne ! A very British affair !

It’s that time again in a little corner of SW London . That every year the peace and tranquility of Southfields is shattered by the sound of thousands of feet marching up to the tennis in Wimbledon Village

Wimbledon has the honour of being the largest single annual sporting catering operation in Europe and the average quantities supplied by Championships’ caterers include a 40-year-old relationship with

It is during the 2 weeks that 29,000 bottles of Lanson are drunk. A mighty feat in any producers handbook. To complement the amount thats drunk,  28,000 kg (140,000 servings) of English strawberries are consumed.

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This is the time to celebrate , to worship the “god of tanning” of which turns us Brits from  pasty white into

Lobster red !!!

We can only do this, it seems by drinking lots of champagne in the hot weather and loads of strawberries to boot.

Strawberries and  raspberries will always be the fruits of summer for the UK  but what about drink.

The historical bit……….

Champagne was originally produced in England, where the technology for bottling and corking drinks containing carbon dioxide was developed in the latter part of the 1500s,  In 1662, scientist Christopher Merret reported to the Royal Society of London that adding sugar “promoted effervescence,” lending champagne its signature sparkle.

However, determining the right amount of sugar required careful experimental processes to avoid bottle explosions. 100 years later and champagne was perfected. The original, sweet version became trendy in Paris among the wealthy, whilst the English preferred dry champagne and the English wine-making method became popular throughout the wine-making world.

The tradition of drinking champagne started in the Royal courts of Europe prior to 1789, where champagne was viewed as a status symbol and became very popular in the late nineteenth century. Today, it’s often used to commemorate joyous occasions, from launching ships to throwing champagne glasses on the floor at Russian weddings and Wimbledon.

 I can think of no better way to celebrate a relaxing time with friends or a trip to wimbledon tennis  than a nice chilled bottle of the following :

Billecart Salmon Cuvee Nicholas Francois 2002 champagne £120 The Whiskey Exchange

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or Bollinger Grande Annee 2002 Bollinger G.A. 2002 Millesima £130

This champagne are restrained refined and  elegant and one of the best years for vintage in the last 15 years.

Lanson Brut (Wimbledon’s preferred champagne) on the other hand is composed of 35% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir, and 15% Pinot Meunier, aged for three years.

The wine is fresh and fruity, with fresh apple notes and a grassy, mineral characteristics coming on later. Refreshing and well-balanced although I found it a little one dimensional. Ok if you want an unassuming champagne and 1/2 the price.  There is a champagne for everyone out there .and even sparkling wine’s from the UK  Although far to mention on here in this short piece , I will however highlight a few which i think is worth of a mention

some great producers  include

Camel valley Camel valley rose  £26.95

Pinot-Noir-Rose-Brut-1250x1875

Really individual English style in the best possible way. Delicate salmon pink colour, lovely floral and strawberry aromas, pure refreshing palate.

 

Bolney

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A simple, light and refreshing English sparkling wine. Very easy to drink with a charming elderflower creaminess. £23.99 Bolney bubbly

not to mention Wales

 Jabajak vineyard

Welsh Blush Sparkling 2014

A delicate sparkling rosé produced from our hand-picked Seyval and Phoenix grapes. Blushed with Rondo giving fabulous hints of strawberry on the nose leading to summer berries on the palate with a crisp dry finish. £35.00 Welsh sparkling

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As a footnote to the piece , there is so much talent and so many producers, now is the time for the government to support UK producers and UK brand in wine and champion the fabulous products we have on offer.  Champagne will be forever a celebration but there is nothing wrong in having sparkling wines as an alternative to it.  We have a slight restriction in that the size of the vineyards and yield of the grapes might be a little on the small side. Local grapes mean distinctive characteristics, so gentle interaction from the winemaker is needed to appeal to the palate of the consumer. But what ever the case champagne or sparkling wine should be drunk in times of happiness, in times of tears,in times of victory and in times of despair. It is a wine for enjoying.

A point worth thinking about ….

Do we as consumers pay champagne prices for champagne

or

Pay champagne prices for UK sparkling wine as the price of loyalty/patriotism or look to alternative markets !

Email me your favourite champagnes + photos   at  thegrapewizrd@gmail.com or merely just your comments

and sign up at thegrapewizard.com

Sorry its a short one this week !!!!

 

Music pairing

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