Wednesday Wines – Episode 207 – The UK Launch of the 2012 Billecart-Salmon Pair

2012 Billecart Pair

 

2012 Billecart-Salmon Louis & Elisabeth Launch

The Connaught

10th April 2024

 An NV version introduced each of the 2012 vintage wines launched today – this clever tactic offered tasters an opportunity to sight the target before firing the gun. Each 2012 vintage wine was followed by an equivalent a decade or so older to indicate possible development. Again, this was a valuable tool in predicting development, albeit with one of the wines being more accurate, in my opinion, than the other, not least because the Billecart wines made twenty years ago were quite different to those made a decade ago and even to those made today.

After a quick search, I have found a couple of stockists today to serve as a price indicator.

The Whites

NV Billecart-Salmon, Brut Blanc de Blancs, Grand Cru (MY017) (£70.00, reduced to £66.00 each by the dozen, www.thefinestbubble.com).

This wine is a personal favourite, and while I appreciated the opportunity to set the scene for 2012 Louis with the benchmark Billecart Chardonnay, I know this wine inside out. With a beautiful nose showing delicacy offset by crisp, teasing acidity, this is one of the most reliable BdeB wines in Champagne. I have written a lot about this wine over the years, and it never disappoints as a benchmark ‘straight down the middle style’. Discreet almond brioche notes balanced by strident citrus tones make this a thrillingly complete wine, and it has a joyous forward air which is cut with enough acidity and pinch to enliven the palate and deliver a thoroughly classy, chalky, mouth-watering finish. Superb.  My Origin Code is 171268

2012 Billecart-Salmon, Louis Salmon Blanc de Blancs (£156.67 per bottle; £360.00 per magnum, www.millesima.co.uk). 

Named after the first chef de cave at Billecart, Louis Salmon, Billecart has been making this style since the ’60s, and it never disappoints. While 2012 had a very tricky start to the season, a remarkable vintage emerged because the summer was superb. The French expression, ‘Août fait le moût’, meaning ‘the month of August makes the must’, or rather, August is largely responsible for the calibre of flavour of any vintage, is startlingly accurate in this wine. With low yields, a lengthy hang-time, and decent natural alcohol levels of 10.5%, this 100% Grand Cru made up of 60% Le Mesnil, 23% Cramant, 11% Chouilly, and 6% Oiry is a ravishingly refreshing wine. 25% was vinified in barrel, and it was aged for a mighty 115 months before being bottled with a lean 3.9g/L dosage. Mathieu Roland-Billecart surmised that the 2012 sits between the 2002 and the 2008 in style – not as austere as ’02 and with “more meat” than ’08.  Interestingly, the bottles were aged under crown caps, and the magnums were cork-sealed for maturation. We tasted these two formats side by side, and they indeed showed some fascinatingly different characteristics. The bottle format seemed lovely, silky, super-long and gloriously even. It is a slender, willowy wine with a palate that flows briskly with intent. Its flanks are glassy-smooth, and all of the acidity is reserved for the serious finish, which echoes the NV that proceeded it, except this time, there is much more tension and verve on display. The cork-cap-aged magnum discreetly showed more breadth on the nose and a hint of toastiness on the palate. It seemed to have picked up more of the oak nuances, carrying them further forward on the palate. The other difference is that the magnum appears more profound, as it billows on the palate initially, however I can see both formats converging somewhat over time. While they are both exactly the same wine, they might never end up tasting identical because every time you open a bottle, taking a ‘snapshot’ of their flavours, they will not be at the same spot of their respective timelines, and this makes them both must-haves for the serious Billecart aficionado! Billecart also made a handful of jeroboams in 2012 – albeit in tiny quantities – so goodness knows how different this format would taste.   19+/20 (Drink 2025 – 2035 for the bottles and 2028 – 2045 for the magnums).  My Origin Code for the bottle is 121233, and for the magnum is 121249; Disgorged Q1 2023

Bonus wine – 2004 Billecart-Salmon, Brut Blanc de Blancs (£200.00, www.thewineroomscambridge.com).

Made from 50% Le Mesnil, 30% Chouilly, 10% Avize and 10% Cramant and with one-third vinified in barrels, this wine was disgorged in March 2016 after 130 months on its lees with a 6g/L dosage. There is an immediacy to this creature that is entirely at odds with the 2012 wines. With an open, riper, more wild-honey-kissed note throughout, this is a wine at the peak of its powers with hints of exoticism that melt into the palate.  While it is fading slightly, this is a delightful slice of nostalgia.  18.5/20 (Drink now – 2030)

The Rosés

NV Billecart-Salmon, Brut Rosé (MY020) (£62.45 each by the case of 6 bottles, www.lokiwine.co.uk).

Made from a blend of 45% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier, with a 7-8% red wine addition from the Montagne de Reims, this is a classic, with crisp, fresh, bright and relaxed fruit and an aerial quality that is uplifting. It completely contrasts the darker, heavier red-wine-soaked styles that proliferate the market and which I, personally, find hard to stomach. Beautifully balanced, with a lovely crispness and pinch, this sample was made from a 2020 base wine (54%) with components dating back to 2014. No oak is used, and this chimes perfectly with this famous wine’s refreshing and persistent character.  My Origin Code is 201253

2012 Billecart-Salmon, Elisabeth Salmon Rosé (£170.00 per bottle; £380.00 per magnum, www.millesima.co.uk). 

Made from 55% Chardonnay (Chouilly, Avize, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Cramant) and 45% Pinot Noir (Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Verzenay) and featuring only 2.9% oak, this wine spent 115 months on its lees and was bottled with a 3.8g/L dosage. 8.3% red wine from Mareuil was used, which is a little more than they use in the NV. The thinking here is it needs just a touch more depth of colour and intensity to keep its colour as it ages. We tasted in bottle and magnum with the same comparison of crown-sealed v cork-sealed and, again, the comparison was equally enjoyable. The bottles were superbly clean, amazingly delicate, and resonant, with crystal-clean fraise de bois notes dominating. Not surprisingly, with a Chardonnay-dominant recipe, the finish brings acres of chalk to scour the taste buds with glorious minerality and tension. Both the bottle and magnum have this superb engine on display, and the main difference at this early moment in the magnum’s life is that it appears, although the difference is not as stark as it is in Louis, to have more power pushed forwards on the palate. Both formats are superbly calm and controlled, and a vault of power in the core will send this wine down the line for a good couple of decades. Do I have a preference? Yes, with Elisabeth, I feel the bottle format will be the most alluring for the short to medium term and with Louis, I cannot resist the magnums! I scored both wines equally because they are beauties, and I cannot pick between them so that the choice will come down to your menu or your guests’ preferences.  19+/20 (Drink now – 2045) My Origin Code for the bottle is 121234, and for the magnum, it is 121248; Disgorged Q1 2023

Bonus wine – 2002 Billecart-Salmon, Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon Brut Rosé (£200.00 in bond per bottle, www.bordeauxindex.com). 

Elisabeth is usually as near as dammit a 50/50 blend, and in 2002, it was precisely thus. With no barrels employed, a 7g/L dosage and a disgorgement in October 2013, this wine looked glorious, echoing the power and prestige of the legendary 2002 vintage. With a superb depth of colour (this is the notable difference between the red wine addition back then and today’s more restrained hue), this is still an incredibly civilised wine with impeccable purity and fantastic length. This is a stunning wine; it purrs with delight in the glass and shows no signs of slowing down. Super-seductive and looking particularly delicious today, this is a remarkable vintage in Champagne, especially at Billecart.  19.5/20 (Drinking now and for a good decade or more on this showing!)

 FIN