April 4, 2024|In News, Winery Spotlight, Wines

Soaring, Suave, Sophisticated Vintage Champagne - True Wines of Distinction

Vintage is IN, and never more so than at famed Champagne House, Billecart-Salmon

Vintage Billecart-Salmon Champagne Series

We love Champagne! And we know you do too, our loyal Dhall & Nash fellow fine wine imbibers.

But then sometimes you absolutely need to impress, even if the one to impress is yourself. Time to reach for the stars and pull out a bottle of Vintage Champagne that is fully draped in the prestige, tradition, and elegance of one of the most accomplished boutique houses in Champagne: Billecart-Salmon. They are the masters of vintage champagne – the ultimate luxury libation – the supernova of sparkling wines!

Clearly, the mystique of Billecart-Salmon’s vintage champagnes has reached far and wide – this is blue-chip buying after all. Vineyards, vintages, and producer are all best-in-class here. This is champagne like no other – favoured by wine collectors, investors, wine geeks and of course, the rich and famous.

“The Billecart family doesn’t rest on its laurels.”
– Decanter, Stephen Brook

And fortunately, as part of the upcoming Dhall & Nash Distinction Series Events, we would like to acquaint your palates with mesmerising, show-stopping masterpieces of vintage Billecart-Salmon Champagne.

This is a rare chance to treat yourself like a superstar and book a pair of highly coveted seats at our Distinction Series tastings. A circle-the-calendar event for every fine wine lover.

A Brief History of Champagne Billecart-Salmon

During the 17th century, Pierre Billecart, an esteemed winemaker, and ancestor of Nicolas François Billecart, was summoned by King Louis XIII who authorised him to create his own coat of arms. Thus, when the Champagne House of Billecart-Salmon was born in 1818 from marriage of Nicolas-François Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon, his descendants proudly reinstated them.

Situated in the village of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, near Epernay, Champagne Billecart-Salmon is still a family-run organisation with seventh generation Mathieu Roland-Billecart overseeing business. Alongside the family members are a dedicated team of people who hold the House values dear to them such as Chef de Cave François Domi who retired in 2016 after 30 years with Billecart and handed over to his deputy Florent Nys who started with the business in 2005. The vineyards are overseen by Denis Blée, and all of the team are members of the eight strong “tasting committee” along with 6th generation François Roland-Billecart and Antoine Roland-Billecart and fifth generation Jean Roland-Billecart. By 2020 production had expanded with grapes now coming from 300 hectares and 40 crus mostly within 20 kms of the winery.

Always conscious to improve the quality of their champagne, in the fifties the House established the technique of chilling the must combined with the use of stainless-steel tanks for a longer fermentation at a lower temperature. Over time, the wines conserve their freshness, and the aromas intensify, allowing Billecart-Salmon champagnes to deliver all they promise.

Billecart-Salmon is discreetly but significantly continuing to evolve. Since 2010, a new cellar has housed some 400 barrels for vinification and élevage, and since 2018, another cellar is home to oak foudres retaining some 80,000 litres of reserve wine. Meanwhile, Billecart’s wines are spending longer and longer sur lees, and fruit sourcing is changing—with more grand cru fruit replacing premier cru fruit—while volumes remain the same. Based on the trials underway in their emblematic Clos Saint-Hilaire, the next frontier will be the vineyards.

The Billecart-Salmon Winning Style

The House style is intensely bright and fruity with an increasingly oxidative tone brought about by the recent re-introduction of oak. The Billecart-Salmon portfolio is vast, but they are best known for their prestige cuvées, Cuvée Nicolas-François, Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon Rosé, and Cuvée Louis Salmon.

The jewel of the estate, however, is the single-vineyard champagne Clos Saint Hilaire: a monstrously powerful cuvée (luckily D&N still has some of the 2005 and 2006 in extremely limited quantities.)

In 1999, Cuvée Nicolas-François 1959 was awarded ‘Champagne of the Millennium’ by the world’s number one champagne expert, Richard Juhlin, and a committee of critics at a 3 day blind tasting involving 150 vintages from the most illustrious champagne producers. The 1961 vintage, for its part, came second! Outshining Dom Perignon, Ruinart and Krug. WOW!

In his book ‘The Great Tasting’, Richard Juhlin wrote of the winner:

“The perfect champagne, 1959 Billecart-Salmon, had everything one would expect of a luxury champagne, but in a seldom seen concentration and simultaneously with harmonious balance. A totally perfect champagne in its category, with a smoky, honey-smooth extremely long taste of walnut, orange blossom and chocolate. All who ever get to drink this fabulous wine just have to love the pleasure it grants. When you study the end results it is striking to see how obvious the victory was.”

It was awarded a final mark of 98.5 out of 100.

Obviously for the true aficionado, vintage means everything when it comes to champagne. The personality of the different vintages is one of the champagne taster’s greatest joys. Some are most fond of the powerful alcoholic vintages with excess heat such as 1947, 1959, 1976, 1989, 1990, 2003 and 2015, while others prefer vintages that gave cooler, tart, elegant and fine-tuned champagnes, such as: 1919, 1952, 1966, 1969, 1971, 1979, 1981, 1985, 1988, 1996 and 2008. Regardless of which years are preferred, the different vintages reveal a rich variety that makes wine tasting even more fascinating.

The Extraordinary ‘Distinction Series’ Event Vintages

Dhall & Nash is elated to offer an array of stunning events across the country, tasting a number of Billecart wines, but see some highlights below.

Vintage Billecart-Salmon Cuvee Nicolas Francois Brut

2008 Billecart-Salmon Nicolas François Brut

Poured at all Distinction Series Events

2008 A brilliant “bullseye” vintage. The 2008 vintage is widely considered one of the top two vintages of this century so far. Fast on the heels of the renown and legendary 2002. The growing season got off to a rocky start with an unusually cool and damp spring. The cool weather persisted throughout much of the summer, but September brought idyllic weather that sped up ripening. By harvest, the grapes were in near-perfect condition. They had high levels of both sugar and acid, and growers were extremely happy with the results. Subsequent tastings have proven the wines to be of exceptional quality. The vintage is defined by its crisp, linear structure and racy, energetic taste profile. Given its exceptional structure and balance, 2008 is estimated to be one of the longest ageing vintages.

“It pours a rich straw hue and is layered and long with aromas of truffle, apricot, croissant, floral orange blossoms, and marmalade. Full-bodied, it’s supple in texture, with a rounded mousse, and has a long-lasting, mouthwatering finish. Exceptionally well-balanced, it comes together seamlessly on the finish. This will be a wine to enjoy over the next three decades.”
Jeb Dunnuck, 98 Points

“Complex, lively and direct with a core of intense citrus fruit (lemon and lime) with some subtle apple, toast and honey notes adding interest and depth. There’s a bit of structure here and great acidity, and some notes of cherries, plum and lime. Very fine and expressive, this is an immense wine. Thrilling.”
Jamie Goode – 97 Points

“It has a delicate, pure, clean bouquet with aromas of orchard fruits, spring flowers, honey and licorice, with hints of brioche and pastry with aeration. Medium to full-bodied, chiseled and crystalline, with racy acids and a chalky texture, the palate is tense and the finish is long, penetrating and salty. It exhibits perfect Billecart style, yet tension is present, a sign of the vintage.”
Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate – 96 Points

Vintage Billecart-Salmon Le Clos Saint Hilaire Brut

2005 Billecart-Salmon Le Clos Saint Hilaire

Poured at Distinction Series Tasting Events (Not Dinners)

This is it, the creme of the crop. The top wine from this top producer. This unique Blanc de Noirs vintage comes exclusively from the Le Clos Saint Hilaire vineyard, named after the patron saint of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ. This one hectare Clos meets strict standards: a single plot, enclosed and in one piece. Aged on lees for 170 months, less than 5,000 bottles were produced and each bottle is individually numbered.

The colour gives a very real guide to the volume of fruit in the engine. It is a stunning old gold with pale green hints and softer amber hues. A decadent perfume captures the senses with layers of mandarin, honey, wax and patisserie shot with faint red cherry highlights, and this means that I spent as much time sniffing my glass as I did sipping this wine. Over the course of an hour, the nose broadened further with more exotic tones and even hints of spice. The palate follows a similar theme, with ultra-fine bubbles teasing the taste buds but not distracting from the overall persistence of the depth of fruit notes.

This is a rich, mouth-coating wine, and the acidity does all it can to hold it in perfect equilibrium. Of course, it is drinking now, but there is enough of a battery pack to last at least a decade, and I wonder if it won’t make two decades with ease. It is hard to tell because the luxurious ballgown of flavour hides the mineral and acid tones so cleverly. This is another sensational LCSH, and they all have such distinct characters it is truly a wine of the soil and the vintage, and this makes it one of the most honest and thought-provoking of the super-premium Champagnes.”
Matthew Jukes, 19 Points

“The 2005 Brut Le Clos Saint-Hilaire is sublime. Silky and understated, the 2005 is a model of class. The mousse alone is utterly captivating. Dried pear, gentle hints of spice, dried flowers and mint are some of the many notes that grace the 2005. In this vintage, Le Clos Saint-Hilaire is quite soft and medium in body, a Champagne of refinement more than power. Orchard fruit, white flowers and bright saline undertones frame the long, very pure finish.”
Vinous – 98 Points

“Richly complex nose of spiced yellow plums, brioche, toasted lemons, butterscotch, baked apples, strawberries, coffee cream, praline, earthy mushroom and truffle hints. It’s creamy, layered and generous, with soft bubbles. Complex toasty and spicy elements carry through to a long finish. Opulence and sophistication.”
James Suckling – 98 Points

Vintage Billecart-Salmon Le Clos Saint Hilaire Brut

2006 Billecart-Salmon Le Clos Saint Hilaire

Poured at Distinction Series Tasting Events (Not Dinners)

One to make you weak in the knees, the 2006 top Blanc de Noirs from this enclosed 1Ha vineyard parcel was aged on the lees for 159 months, over 13 years, and it’s reception upon release has been nothing short of monumental…

2006: A complicated vintage in Champagne. The vines suffered a mixed summer with a scorching July followed by a particularly rainy August. The rain in September then compromised the sanitary state of the grapes. The harvest had to be picked very quickly. Luckily for Clos Saint-Hilaire, Pinot Noir had the most success this year, rivalling Meunier and even Chardonnay.

“A baby. It was unfair to ask this wine to perform on a stage so crowded with opinionated and excellent wines, but 2006 LCSH didn’t bat an eyelid and, in fact, opened up exponentially over the hour that I managed to spend glued to this glass. With more perfume than I expected and crammed with chypre and white smoke details, these exotic details are perfectly counterpointed with terrific complexity and thousands of layers of fruit and spice. Quieter and more closed than the others, but complex, calm and blushingly pretty, there is a lot of power and potential hidden in the folds of this wine, and while they are reluctant to emerge, it is possible to get a sense of their potential already. While the depth of fruit is extraordinary, I am only seeing the tip of the iceberg today. I can only imagine the difference a year makes, let alone ten, twenty or thirty! I hope I am here to taste this wine to realise its potential. Either way, this is a staggeringly serious vintage for LCSH, and it might well prove to be another flawless release given time.

Matthew Jukes, 19.5 Points

“Baked raspberries, salted yellow plums, figs, walnuts, orange zest, mahogany and some toasted vanilla on the nose. Medium-to full-bodied with beautifully integrated, very fine bubbles. Dry, with exciting and unique white-pepper and sea-salt notes. Seamless. So harmonious. Salty and spicy clove notes evolving at the end. Amazing precision.”
James Suckling – 99 Points

“The 2006 Le Clos Saint-Hilaire is fabulous. In this radiant year, the Clos Saint-Hilaire has a touch more mid-palate sweetness and generosity, but that’s a good thing, as it balances some of the more austere leanings that can make young vintages hard to appreciate upon release. Apricot, lemon confit, ginger, graphite, spice and crushed rocks are strands in a gorgeous, captivating tapestry that dazzles right out of the gate. The precision here is just mind-blowing. Billecart’s 2006 Clos Saint-Hilaire is a very special Champagne, that much is very clear.”
Vinous – 98 Points

Vintage Billecart-Salmon Cuvee Elisabeth Salmon Rose

2009 Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon Brut Rosé

Poured at all Distinction Series Events

Meet our Dhall & Nash poster-girl of vintage champagne – she’s all class. The 2009 Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon Brut Rosé cleverly marries the raciness of the outstanding 2009 vintage to the richness and power of the old vine Pinot that gives this wine its colour. 

The 2009 Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon Rosé is made mostly from Grand Cru vineyards, but it is the Premier Cru that goes into it that makes it so special. The red wine that gives this rosé its colour comes from a small plot of 80-year-old Pinot Noir in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ called the Valofroy. This parcel, adjacent to the Clos des Goisses, faces due south and directly down at the Marne. The production from this ancient site is the limiting factor for the production of this rare tête de cuvée.

2009 An admirable vintage following the brilliant 2008. After a bit of a challenging start with cold temperatures and minimal rain the rest of the year enjoyed a good, consistent growing season. No rain during harvest cemented the quality of the wines which show great elegance, poise, and balanced acidity. In terms of profile the wines are very similar to the 2008s, while coming from very different growing conditions. Unlike the 2008s, they are more accessible in the near term with many of the wines drinking beautifully upon release.

“A slightly flinty and vibrant bouquet alongside complex aromas of red berries, herbs and lemon, with fresh menthol notes coming through with some air. The palate is wonderful and elegant, with a vinous texture and a superb, calcareous finish.

Decanter, 98 Points

“Billecart’s 2009 Brut Rose Cuvee Elisabeth Salmon is showing beautifully, delivering fragrant aromas of plums, stone fruits, petals, sweet spices, and marzipan. Medium to full-bodied, fleshy and elegant, it’s seamless.”
The Wine Advocate – 96 Points

“The 2009 Brut Rosé Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon is such a joyous Champagne. Intensely floral and effusive, the 2009 is a real charmer.”

Billecart-Salmon Cuvee Louis Salmon Brut Blanc de Blanc

2009 Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Louis Salmon Blanc de Blancs

Poured at all Distinction Series Events

This cuvée was named in tribute to Louis, Elisabeth Salmon’s brother, who was passionate about oenology and highly involved in winemaking from the earliest creation of the House. Originating from the best parcels of the Côte des Blancs, the Blanc de Blancs vintage is endowed with purity and minerality. This vintage was aged on the lees for an astonishing 144 months (12 years).

“A seductive wine that’s almost identical in appearance to the 2017 Blanc de Blancs, this 2009 jumps from the glass with a buoyant personality in its perfume of lemon custard, honeysuckle, fresh brioche, a hint of almond, and juicy pear. Full-bodied, its wonderfully rich texture coats the palate with citrus oils, and it has a finish that won’t quit. It balances its warmth and solar feel with a lovely embrace and retains a powerful yet balanced finish.

Jeb Dunnuck, 97 Points

“2009 Brut Blanc de Blancs Cuvée Louis Salmon reveals aromas of pear, lemon oil, mandarin oil, white pepper, pastry and almonds. Medium to full-bodied, chiseled and long, it has a crystalline yet vinous texture with a fresh, salty finish. It is a quintessential representation of Billecart’s style, characterized by racy acids and a lively palate.”
The Wine Advocate – 95 Points

“This is showing an array of almonds, frangipani, dried lemons, apricots, pastries and white chocolate, evolving to salted caramel. Fantastic complexity and all in balance, with firm focus yet open and delicious. Creamy, very fine bubbles. Salty, turning chalky and mineral at the end.”
James Suckling – 96 Points

What’s the big deal with vintages in Champagne?

Perhaps no other wine region on earth is as vintage driven as Champagne. Because of its location in north-eastern France this region really pushes the envelope for grape growing – it’s marginal here. Many of the harvests in any given decade are not suitable for the production of top-quality, single-vintage Champagne.

Most of the Champagne produced is non-vintage, meaning that the wine is a blend of grapes grown during many different vintages. Single-vintage Champagne is usually only produced three or four times per decade and makes up less than 5% of total Champagne production. The rarity of these top vintages makes the great years even more special, with exceptional and rare vintages commanding high prices at auction. With climate change, Champagne has seen a string of roller-coaster vintages during the past decade.

Nevertheless, a Champagne’s vintage remains one of the most important factors for collectors and lovers of fine aged Champagne. These Billecart-Salmon vintage cuvées demonstrate best that champagne is a wine that can be kept for many years without losing any of its dynamism and brilliance, at the same time developing aromas, exotic flavours and spellbinding complexity that set it apart from other top sparkling wines and still wines alike.

You may ask that in a world happy enough with prosecco and pét-nat, are these vintage champagnes truly worth it?

Absolutely! Even if our modern day lives are full of distractions and disappointments, a surprisingly small number of deluxe Champagne Houses, such as Billecart-Salmon, still consistently represent the highest-quality fizz you can find. These are hauntingly powerful masterworks. In other words, an astoundingly sublime wine experience. What you’re paying for are the very best grapes from grands crus and premiers cru vineyards in the very best years; with extra years of aging in the Champagne’s cold, chalky cellars (which gives the wines more complex flavours and aromas); the undoubted rarity factor; and, of course, Prestige with a capital P!