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Wine opinion: Delamotte Blanc de Blancs NV champagne is an insider's choice

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 July, 2014, 12:09am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 July, 2014, 12:09am

Not to do myself out of a job, but a smart way to get some wine tips is to open the fridge in the kitchen of a Bordeaux négociant. You'll almost certainly find a bottle of Denis Dubourdieu's dry white AOC Graves, Clos Floridene. Next to it, I think you'll come across a bottle of Delamotte Blanc de Blancs NV champagne.

The reason that this is such an insider's choice is because the grapes from Delamotte are sourced from the same place as Champagne Salon, perhaps the world's rarest champagne: one that is only made in specific named years, and sold as a vintage. When a vintage is not declared (and Salon champagne not bottled) those same grapes end up in the citrus zing of a crisp Delamotte.

It's a beautiful, delicate champagne, trembling with understated complexity, a signpost to just how astonishing Salon can be. That's doubtlessly why those same négociants turned up in force last week when CEO Didier Depond brought the latest Salon vintage, the 2002, to Bordeaux for an unveiling (one of the later stops on its international release tour, no doubt because more than 90 per cent of Salon leaves France).

More than a week on, I can close my eyes and still taste the thrilling heights of this wine

This is the first vintage released since 1999, and although we have the 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008 to come, there has been no vintage since 2008.

Even without the rarity factor, Salon is a wine that breaks all the rules. For a start, unlike the vast majority of champagnes, it is not a blend of grapes from different villages. It is 100 per cent chardonnay and comes only from six hectares grown in the village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger on the Cotes de Blancs (both Salon's own and those bought in from a select group of neighbours).

Mesnil grows only 100 per cent grand cru vines, and Salon makes no more than 60,000 bottles each vintage, meaning that most countries get just a few thousand bottles per vintage. There have only been 38 vintages since 1911, including the 2002 that we came to taste - and they are aged for an average of 10 years before release.

We were fortunate to have Alain Terrier with Depond. He has been cellar master of Laurent-Perrier, Delamotte, Krug and Salon. He started in 1975 and retired just under a year ago.

Terrier was responsible for three of the four vintages that we were tasting - Delamotte 2004, Salon 2002 and Salon 1997 (in magnum, drinking beautifully right now) and the 1962 ("the year I was born", says Depond, "so not as old as all that"). Terrier explained that the label was created as a love song to champagne by Eugene-Aimé Salon, when he bought a row of pure chardonnay vines in Mesnil in 1905.

It was, at first, only for his private consumption (Salon claimed he could find no champagne that lived up to his exacting standards). It expanded to a lucky group of friends and clients.

Its first "commercial" bottling was in 1921, and it remained with the Salon family until it was bought by Laurent-Perrier in 1988. Even after that, Salon never compromised its quality - there is no secondary malolactic fermentation, which ensures the flavours are austere, crisp with menthol notes.

The lack of oak ageing underlines this, with winemaking taking place only in stainless steel, which again emphasises the purity of the flavours. Even the dosage is kept very low so there is no masking sugar sweetness. This is a wine confident of its own greatness.

"It has exactly the same character as the 1982," says Depond, although my neighbouring tasters all placed it in a higher bracket.

"You can see after 12 years the colour is still pale, there is no hint of oxidation or deepening golden colour, which is a good sign for the potential of the wine. And the bubbles are tiny; an indication of extreme quality."

More than a week on, I can close my eyes and still taste the thrilling heights of this wine; so elegant and restrained, so astonishingly young even at 12-years-old, with fine bubbles that caressed at first, but drew themselves up to deliver electric touches of aniseed mixed with white flowers and hawthorn.

It was certainly a stunning champagne, seemingly hard to better - although we were left with one tantalising fact that suggested it just might be.

In most releases, Salon puts 10 per cent of its production in magnums. But Depond says he has decided to bottle the 2008 vintage in magnums, with no normal-sized bottles.

"It will be kept in the Salon cellars for a minimum of 15 to 16 years before being released," he says. "Its evolution is truly magical - and a magnum is the perfect format for such an exceptional wine." In the meantime, get that bottle of Delamotte chilling. Jane Anson is a Bordeaux-based wine and travel writer