Why Billecart-Salmon is Essential
Whenever I meet a sommelier for a professional interview, I always try to prod them on their absolute favorite wine. Given the breadth of what they’ve tasted, you rarely get the same answer twice … unless we’re talking about the Champagne house Billecart-Salmon, who seems to come up often. There is something about the perfectly balanced sparkling wines from this estate that leaves an indelible mark.
Founded in 1818, and still owned by the Billecart family, Billecart-Salmon is not the oldest Champagne house but it has the longest continuous streak of family ownership. They haven’t kept this good thing going by accident. The reputation for obsessive precision in the winemaking process has surrounded this winery with an aura that can be intimidating, especially if you are trying to understand the technical aspects of their process as a student of wine. Current chef de cave, Florent Nys, apprenticed under François Domi for 13 years before being trusted with the head position — a testament to his loyalty, sure, but also to Domi’s exacting and meticulous processes which must have taken ample time to absorb. You can’t just hand those reins over to anybody.
Fortunately, the wines themselves are 100% joy in a bottle — giving, comforting, detailed and rich. You don’t have to understand how they were engineered into existence to love them. And there isn’t an anonymous wine in the lot.
Wines to Seek Out
Billecart-Salmon likes to harvest their grapes early at a lower potential alcohol, in a quest for a more elegant, lean and acid-forward champagne. They are also quite bullish on Pinot Meunier. In total, their are 12 champagne to choose from, including a rare single-vineyard wine from Clos Saint-Hilaire made entirely from Pinot Noir. Many of these upper-echelon wines are hard to acquire due to demand, but their entry-level wines alone earn their standing here.
Billecart-Salmon Champagne Brut Rosé
One of Champagne’s most celebrated rosé wines, although the prestige cuvée named after Elisabeth Salmon takes top billing for many. The Brut Rosé has a lovely carnation-salmon hue that almost feels like perfect branding more than anything. The aromas are very traditional and complex, with many layers of fruit, bread, flower and nuts to tease apart over a night.
Billecart-Salmon Champagne Brut Réserve
This remarkable Brut Réserve is comprised of between 50 and 60% reserve wines, and spends three years on the lees. The take away is a creaminess that entices and delights, and a finish that strives for infinity.
Billecart-Salmon Champagne Brut Sous Bois
Currently one of my two favorite champagne wines of all time. The other, from Béreche et Fils, shares the same process: vinification entirely in oak barrels. This seems to lend a resonance to the wine that I have not found elsewhere — the bass, bassoon, tuba and timpani in the symphony, so to speak. On the nose, it shows off a fabulous complexity suggestive of crisp pears, fresh apricots, almonds, white flowers and pie crust with a lovely, high-pitched butterscotch thing happening on the finish. The bubbles are also more satin-like than other champagne. A thrilling wine from start to finish.
Tours of Billecart-Salmon are in high demand. Inquire via the form on the company’s website.