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May 29, 2024

2012 Billecart-Salmon Louis Salmon Blanc de Blancs and Elisabeth Salmon Rosé

The latest thrilling vintage releases of the Mareuil-sur-Aÿ house’s top cuvées

By Anne Krebiehl MW

We do not put our ancestors’ names lightly on a bottle,” said Mathieu Roland-Billecart of Champagne Billecart-Salmon. The seventh generation of his family to run the Mareuil-sur-Aÿ-based Champagne house, he was in London to launch two of Billecart-Salmon’s founders’ cuvées: the 2012 Elisabeth Salmon Rosé, named in honor of Elisabeth Salmon, co-founder of the house in 1818 with her husband Nicolas François Billecart, and the 2012 Louis Salmon Blanc de Blancs, named after Elisabeth’s brother Louis Salmon, who was the first cellar master of Champagne Billecart-Salmon.

With numerous 2012 Vintage Champagnes already released, Roland-Billecart only sketched the year briefly. He said that these 2012 wines were like “a glimmer of hope” for growers who then, as now, have to contend with the ever-changing challenges of radically different and increasingly unpredictable growing seasons: “From what was a pretty terrible beginning of the season, with frost, dryness… Hell… the lot, we managed to pull a great vintage, because as we say, août fait le moût, or August makes the must. We had lower yields and harvested in the second part of September.” What he describes is a year that saw a wet beginning, spring frosts and even hail, followed by a warm summer punctuated by heat spikes and a gentler September. In the end, August and September spelled both ripeness and fine acidity. “2012 sits somewhere between 2002 and 2008,” Roland-Billecart said. “It is not a monster of leanness, like 2008, or of concentration, like 2002. It has more meat on the bone than 2008 on release.”

The joy of this release tasting was that both the Louis Salmon Blanc de Blancs and the Elisabeth Salmon Rosé were served from both bottle and magnum. What a delicious comparison this was, with a riveting ripple of reduction running right through the magnum wines—especially the blanc de blancs—hair-raisingly so. Roland-Billecart explained that while the bottles had been aged under crown cap, the magnums were aged under natural cork. The comparison is thus not a straight one but an arresting one that illustrates the different trajectory that these two different bottle sizes and closures set for the wines, which were already markedly different at this juncture.

The 2012 Louis Salmon Blanc de Blancs is made from grand cru grapes only, chiefly harvested in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger (60%), Cramant (23%), and Chouilly (11%), or as Florent Lys, the current cellar master, puts it: “Cramant for minerality, Chouilly and Oiry for finesse, and Mesnil-sur-Oger for structure and longevity.” One quarter of the wine was fermented in small oak casks. The wine was aged for 115 months on its lees, before disgorgement in February 2023, with a wonderfully restrained 3.9g/l of dosage.

The 2012 Elisabeth Salmon Rosé is from both premier cru (15%) and grand cru (85%) grapes, the 55% Chardonnay in the blend coming from Chouilly, Avize, Mesnil-sur-Oger, and Cramant, and the 45% Pinot Noir from Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Aÿ, and Ambonnay, red wine representing 8.3% of the blend—for once, not from the usual Valofroy parcel in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ but from different parcels in the village. Just 2.9% of the base wines were fermented in oak, and the wine spent 115 months on lees before being disgorged in February 2023, with a dosage of 3.8g/l.

For comparison, Roland-Billecart also brought along a Louis Salmon Blanc de Blancs from 2004 and an Elisabeth Salmon Rosé 2002, both predating the ID codes that now provide much background information via (even if slightly at odds with the details provided by the house on release). But far beyond technical datapoints, these more mature wines demonstrate the delicious agability of Champagne in general and of Billecart-Salmon in particular—especially in magnum. They also exhibit the meticulous care and impeccable quality that are wholly worthy of these two founding members of the house. 


2012 Billecart-Salmon Louis Salmon Blanc de Blancs (Code 12 12 33)

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A cloud of smooth richness with a slight-inflection of vanilla-scented fresh cream opens the nose. The second sniff combines ripe lemon and yellow apple flesh but also a frisson of something riper, juicier, more aromatic and alluring—almost of ripe passion fruit. It is on the palate that the citrus force of this concentrated wine breaks through, uniting ripe Amalfi lemon freshness, dried lemon peel, and lemon oil, becoming more distinct as the tiny bubbles melt in the mouth, leaving a sense of concentration, ripeness, and freshness. All this comes on a firm but compact body, echoing with chalky depth. Subtle. Smooth. | 95

2012 Billecart-Salmon Louis Salmon Blanc de Blancs (Magnum) (Code 12 12 49)

The aromatic highlights are more intense, and instead of a passion-fruit highlight there is a savory, spicy, overtone of moss and lichen, with a flinty, reductive streak. The same beautiful concentration of that lemon ripeness and freshness combo is clear on the palate, while reduction weaves itself through every aspect of this wine, alluringly, promisingly, seductively. This seems even younger, totally sprightly, as though excited to see the light of day. The magnum of Louis Salmon comes with a special energy and distinct élan. | 96

2004 Billecart-Salmon Louis Salmon Blanc de Blancs

The Chardonnay for this vintage of Louis Salmon came from Mesnil (50%), Chouilly (30%), Avize, and Cramant (10% each). It was disgorged in March 2016 after 130 months on lees with a dosage of 6g/l.

Salted cashew and melted butter make for a slightly caramelized nose with a hint of torrefaction, then a frisson of duxelles that intensifies both the saltiness and the savoriness of the nose. A touch of Golden Delicious apple is like a valedictory flash of youth. Later on, more air highlights a touch of chervil, to denote freshness. The full-flavored palate shows a slender body with a creamy mousse, while intense umami, profound saltiness, and chalky depth unite to provide an alluring undertow of mouthwatering moreishness. Light on its feet, but with intense and profound flavors, this is a deeply gastronomic wine. | 94

2012 Billecart-Salmon Elisabeth Salmon Rosé (Magnum) (Code 12 12 34)

Overtones of summer pudding flash up on the Red Delicious nose, already promising the roundness that will become apparent on the palate, while lovely flashes of redcurrant add an aromatic highlight. The palate is indeed creamy and rounded, but all is aligned around a central, almost luminous redcurrant brightness that points like a lightning rod into deep chalk, with a breeze from a distant, ancient sea. The bubbles are creamy and smooth, dispersing satin-like fruitiness. An arresting combination of red-fruited, tart purity, oceanic depth, and creamy generosity with extended length. | 95

2012 Billecart-Salmon Elisabeth Salmon Rosé (Magnum) (Code 12 12 48)

A highlight of that redcurrant seems to have attained wings and vigor provided by more reduction. The palate here comes with even more of that oceanic, now distinctly salty, hinterland, coloring both that bright redcurrant fruit and that subtle autolytic richness that does not intrude on that lovely purity. | 96

2002 Billecart-Salmon Elisabeth Salmon Rosé

The 2002 Elisabeth Salmon Rosé was disgorged in October 2013 with a dosage of 7g/l.

White truffle adds a lifted allure to the last vestiges of berry fruit on this 22-year-old wine, adding an edge of caramelized berry juices, as on the edge of a tarte aux fruits. The chief impression on the creamy palate is of unity, of a fusion of fruit, soil, and depth, still vividly fresh and profound, with creamy, almost floral depth, always with that truffle dimension, shimmering with highlights of berry at one moment, chalk the next. Such an experience, and a lovely juncture of distinct evolution and astonishing youthfulness. | 97

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