About Billecart-Salmon Champagne
The very name conjures up visions of romantic dinners, and stylish afternoons and evenings, in a time gone by. Billecart Salmon has reached the status of icon, and is the top choice of discerning Champagne lovers worldwide, with its Rose, on a pedestal of its own, the world over. For many Billecart-Salmon is at the peak of the Champagne pyramid, in terms of reputation and quality.
Billecart-Salmon was founded in 1818, and is now one of the very few Champagne houses, still to be totally owned by the original family. As it approaches its bi-centenary, the motto of the house today reflects the original vision of the founders ‘Give priority to quality, strive for excellence’.
Billecart-Salmon produces a range of 11 Champagnes, from over 27 vineyard sites, and has one of the highest proportions of top quality, graded grapes from Premier and Grand Crus vineyards, of any Champagne. Small in production, its reputation is at the very top of the quality scale. The wines are supremely elegant, precise, structured, yet intense, and have a timeless style and poise.
Billecart-Salmon has an almost iconic status for its Rose, with its trademark and immediately recognisable squat bottle. It has a loyal band of followers in the UK, which is one of the top 3 exports markets for Champagne, with sales undergoing a massive growth over the last 20 years. It now accounts for almost one quarter of all exports.
What's The Background To Billecart-Salmon?
Billecart-Salmon was founded in 1818, as a result of the marriage of Nicolas Francois Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon. Based in Mareuil sur Ay, where the privately owned house and headquarters still remain, Billecart-Salmon has always had its focus on quality and style rather than volume.
The company is still in family owned hands, with the descendants of the founders, Francois and Antoine Rolland Billecart, now at the helm, with their father, still involved in the business. With their ‘Chef de Cave’, or head winemaker, Francois Domi, they have over 70 years of experience, and have learnt the objectives and quality aspirations of the previous generations. Consistency is crucial in the style of the Champagnes produced; Billecart-Salmon, across the range offers a distinctly, elegant, yet intense style of wine, with poise and an almost ethereal quality in some of the cuvees.
Billecart-Salmon own 50 vineyards of vines, and source the remaining requirements from established and trusted growers. Their chalk cellars, below the main house, date back to the 17th and 19th centuries. What surprises many is the fact that the style of Billecart never wavers, in terms of its sublime quality, despite the fact that a large proportion of the grapes are purchased from growers. The winemakers and Francois Domi, the Chef de Cave, are relentless in their pursuit of top quality grapes, for the highest possible quality of wine.
There is a real sense of tradition and heritage within the house of Billecart-Salmon, with tradition meeting modernity. Whilst the stainless steel cuves, and the barrel cellar are new, Billecart-Salmon is one of the very few houses, still to use some of the old traditional presses for some of its cuvees.
As well as its iconic Rose, and the equally famed Elisabeth Salmon Cuvee Rose vintage, Billecart-Salmon has repeatedly scaled the heights in terms of awards and recognition, across its range, including accolades from some of the world’s top wine writers, such as Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson.
Its ultimate accolade to date, however, has to be the 1999 award for the ‘best Champagne of the millenium’ – a competition to judge 150 of the finest Champagnes of the 20th century, held in Stockholm and judged blind by a panel of experts. First place was awarded to Billecart-Salmon Cuvee Nicolas Francois 1959; a magnum later sold for over £3,000.
What Styles Of Wine Does Billecart Make?
Billecart-Salmon produce around 1.5 million bottles per year; the house has an almost unrivalled reputation in terms of supreme quality, with the sight of the easily recognisable, dumpy bottles, and their clear labelling, treated with reverence by many.
There are 11 cuvees:
Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve - using Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier from 3 different years, Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve is a wine of floral elegance, rich bouquet and flavour and a pervasive elegance and ripeness.
Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose - probably the most famous wine in the range – once again a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, with Pinot Noir added as red wine, as is the tradition in most top producers. The style and secrets of the unique production have been handed down through 7 generations – elegant, stylish, subtle, with delicate red berry character, and intense charm.
Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs - produced entirely from the Chardonnay grape, from 5 Grand cru vineyards, across 2 different years, this wine has a lingering ripeness, richness and creaminess, with citrus and hazelnut character and real depth.
Billecart-Salmon demi-sec - a similar blend to the Brut Reserve, but using a higher dosage – an elegant, balanced, off dry style, with beautiful richness and a creamy, hazelnut edge.
Billecart-Salmon cuvee sous bois - an outstanding, and somewhat unusual Champagne, which intrigues with its personality and character. Vinified entirely in oak barrels, it has a richness and power of flavour and style, with deep, toasty, creamy, complex flavours.
Billecart-Salmon Extra brut - staying true to the traditional blend that the house uses, this is a Champagne with absolutely no dosage; with Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir dominating, it’s a rich, yet exceedingly dry Champagne, with a fine mousse, and a nervy, biscuity, tightly knit elegance and style – racy and exciting.
Billecart-Salmon Vintage 2004 - a beautiful expression of the style of the house, in an intensely ripe and structured way. With 70% Pinot Noir from Grand cru vineyards, and 30% creamy Chardonnay, 20% of the blend was fermented in oak, to add depth, and the Champagne was then aged for 5 years – a unique experience in terms of intensity, complexity, style, substance and exquisite elegance.
Billecart-Salmon Grande Cuvee 1996 - a beautiful expression of the craftsmanship of the house - entirely produced from grand crus vineyards, and a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which is aged for 10 years, this is a mature vintage, which is revealing layer after layer of sublime character.
Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs 1999/2000 - a sumptuous blend of wines, entirely from Grand cru vineyards in the Cotes des blancs, including Chouilly, and Avize, and made entirely from Chardonnay.
Billecart-Salmon Cuvee Nicolas Francois 1999 - a unique vintage Champagne, created only in the best years, from grand cru vineyard fruit (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), part of which has been vinified in oak; intense, rich, complex and lingering.
Billecart-Salmon Cuvee Elisabeth Salmon 2002 - created in 1988, and named after the co-founder, this is a very delicate and sophisticated rose, made from a 50/50 blend of the very best grand cru Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; it has an almost coppery colour, and is unique in its style and structure for a Rose Champagne – gloriously elegant, with deep, berry fruits and a lingering presence.
Billecart-Salmon, le Clos saint Hilaire - a very unique and rare style of Champagne, and one which is produced only in tiny quantities. Made exclusively from Pinot Noir grapes, grown on a 1 hectare estate, owned by Billecart, which is probably at the pinnacle of the grand cru level, it’s a unique wine, with depth, poise, and intense complexity of flavour – a serious and very unique champagne.