PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 May, 2011, 12:00am


It's hard to imagine a business that releases a product only 37 times a century. Perhaps the model suits the grand designs of Airbus, Boeing or even Nasa, but champagne?

Salon, one of the world's most revered bubblies, is a case in point. Of course, it does produce another champagne range, Champagne Delamotte, to get it through the lean years, but don't assume Delamotte is a second-class wine: it's collectible in its own right.

Unlike most wine regions, champagne houses 'declare' a vintage when they deem growing conditions have been perfect - or, in some cases, when cash flow gets a touch tight. In undeclared years they produce non-vintage (NV) bottlings, blending bubbles from several seasons to smooth out the vagaries of their chilly region. Salon is notoriously selective in its declarations. It was the only prestigious champagne house that refused to declare in the popular millennial year 2000, citing Europe's substantial summer heat during ripening.

Another feature of Salon is that it releases its vintages late in the game. Imagine producing an airliner and then parking it for 10 years before selling it. But that's Salon; only recently has this venerated champagne house released its 1999 vintage. And last year only 200 bottles were allocated to the Asian market.

'I get a lot of pressure from importers' says Didier Depond, president of Champagne Salon. Is it expensive? Of course, but 'it is only the price of a new jacket', he says dismissively.

The concept of Salon was created by Eugene Aime Salon early last century. The wine was crafted for himself and a friend.

'The idea,' explains Depond, 'was to create a champagne derived only from chardonnay grapes, only from Le Mesnil de Oger and only in great years. The winter and spring can be very cold but the summer must have heat.'

Interested in visiting Champagne? 'You are welcome in Champagne,' Depond says expansively. 'After the Grand Hyatt, you just turn right [and drive] for 10,000 kilometres.'

Salon 1999

Creamy texture, with fine, exquisite bubbles. There is only one word for this wine: finesse. Although already 12 years old, it is clear this wine will evolve and develop for a further 20 years. Rich but discreet, showing a fine hand with its yeast influence. Not exuberant. As Didier puts it, this is 'really a fine white wine with bubbles. It's not only a champagne.'

Available for HK$2,590 at Altaya Wines (tel: 2523 1945)

Delamotte Rose NV

Pale salmon colour with hints of small red fruits, such as strawberry and raspberry. Exceedingly quiet flavours with candle wax notes and dried flower accents. Firm structure and silky texture, in the sense of licking a scrap of silk. Fine, prickly bubbles.

Available for HK$550 at Altaya

Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 2002

Fine intensity, white flowers and hints of white nectarine. Minute, petite bubbles. Clean, tight, minerally, fresh, tart and vigorous with fine length. Elegant.

Available for HK$590 at Altaya

Delamotte Brut NV

Classic blend, made from chardonnay selected only from grand cru sites. This is a quiet, gentle wine with delicate light madeleine biscuit aromas. Fine bubbles, fresh acidity, light floral hints. Though Depond suggests these wines can be served with a meal, in my view they are too delicate, ethereal and, well, pretty to risk on a food match. I do concur with his other recommendation, though: 'My friend tells me it's an easy champagne to drink at breakfast, lunch and dinner.'

Available for HK$298 at Altaya

Debra Meiburg is a master of wine (meiburg@debramasterofwine.com)