First impressions of legendary Le Clos Saint-Hilaire
There is always a great sense of anticipation when a new vintage of LCSH is released onto the market. The first vintage of this ultimate lieu-dit-wine was the legendary 1995, and you can read about every single vintage of this Champagne in Episode 88 of Wednesday Wines. In a staggeringly short period, Le Clos Saint-Hilaire has become the most sought-after ultra-rare Blanc de Noirs on earth.
As François Roland-Billecart recalls, “In the 1950s, my grandmother set aside this park-like space next to our house in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ with vines, flowers and fruit trees, for our enjoyment. Realising this outstanding terroir’s potential, my family decided to plant the first Pinot Noir vines here in 1964. We tried using the Pinot Noir to make a white wine in small Burgundy barrels, and an outstanding champagne was born. After several years of painstakingly tending the vines, the 1995 harvest, the first year of this unique cuvée, was remarkable. We called it Le Clos Saint-Hilaire after the patron saint of the church in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ.”
Between 1000 and 7,500 bottles are produced each year, depending on the vagaries of the vintage, from this magical one-hectare, fully enclosed plot of Pinot Noir vines. To my mind, it is the most consistently outstanding Champagne of all. Le Clos Saint-Hilaire was officially certified as organic in 2022 and biodynamically managed since Spring 2023.
Oak constantly forms a vital role in the kaleidoscopic wine, and the 2007 vintage was fermented in 15-20-year-old oak barrels with gentle lees contact, building fascinating depth and complexity while retaining the riveting signature minerality of the LCSH terroir.
As you would expect, each vintage release has its personality, yet there is an indelible character linking every wine from this monopole and joyously present in the 2007. Funnily enough, I was privileged to taste the 2002 vintage earlier in the year, and it was singing. With the freshness of an epic Champagne and the palate complexity of a sensational Burgundy, it is so rare to taste wines that combine both talents to perfection. As it opened in the glass, over a couple of hours, it never stopped shape-shifting and evolving.
While 2007 shows a much younger and more linear palate, it is built along precisely the same guidelines. The nose is show-stopping, all-enveloping, and effortlessly graceful, and the palate follows this theme. Serene fruit notes expand and contract as the flavours wash over your senses; there is already much to admire. Of course, the finish is straight-jacketed and controlling; after all, this is the Li-ion cell of power that will propel this wine to greatness. Interestingly, it is clear that after only 16 years of life, this wine is built for the long haul. Still, it will not follow the path of some Champagnes who start their lives packed with intensity and muscle only for it to be eaten up over time, leaving a weaker version of flavour that clings onto life. 2007 Le Clos Saint-Hilaire is leaner, fitter, chiselled, and toned. It is modelled with stamina and grace in equal measure, and so while you can drink it now and marvel at its wonder, you will be greeted with a very similar and no doubt ravishingly enticing wine ten or even twenty years down the track. 19.5+/20 (Drink now – 2050)
2007 Billecart-Salmon, Le Clos Saint-Hilaire, Champagne, France £475, from select merchants