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June 10, 2014

Salon Le Mensil 2002

Salon (1)

Salon Le Mesnil is recognised along with Krug Clos du Mesnil and Cristal as the greatest Crus Champagne in the world. Salon is unique, created in the early 1900s as an inimitable concept: a single grape variety, Chardonnay, from a single terrior in the single village Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger, the same 100% Grand Cru vineyard that Krug’s Clos du Mesnil is derived. Salon is the quintessential blanc de blanc, the connoisseur’s Champagne and globally sought after. Salon however, is only made in tiny quantities, with less than 50,000 bottles produced when a vintage is declared. Salon only released 37 vintages in the 20th century; an average of three a decade. The 2002 release is the first vintage of the 21st century, already thought of by many as potentially the vintage of the century, with near perfect weather conditions. The 2002 is unquestionably one of Salon’s greatest ever efforts, competing with the celebrated 1996 and 1983; the latter already costs £600 a bottle.

Salon’s story began in the early 20th century when Eugène Aimé Salon a wealthy furrier returned to his native Champagne to fashion a wine purely from Chardonnay. However, his motivation was limited to making a wine for personal pleasure and impressing his peers and customers. Salon began experimenting with his 1905 vintage; however his brother-in-law, a local winemaker, told him of the grapes grown on the vineyard Le Mesnil which were high in acidity, creating powerful wines, with a wonderful ability to age. In 1911 Salon bought one hectare in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and formed his Champagne house. Of the 20 vineyards in Le Mesnil which Salon selected to source his original grapes, 19 are still used today, the only vineyard now absent is Clos Tarin, bought in 1976 by Krug for its Clos du Mesnil.

Contrary to conventional wine making at the time, Salon decided to harness Mesnil’s purest archetype by making blanc de blanc Champagne. Salon broke the mould by creating a Champagne made solely from Chardonnay that could match, or exceed the body and structure of champagne made from a large percentage of Pinot Noir. He soon realised that the Champagne he was making could age for decades and he decided to stipulate it age for 10 years, resulting in the first blanc de blanc Champagne in 1911, his first commercial vintage was made in 1921.

For many years Salon Le Mesnil was only served at Salon’s lavish parties and drunk by his friends. However, Salon decided to make his wine available at the renowned Art Nouveau restaurant Maxim’s, which he frequented for lunch and dinner and conducted his business affairs. He arranged that a whole page on the menu be devoted to advertising Salon and it quickly became the house pour.

Eugène Aimé Salon died in 1943, still a bachelor, leaving Salon to his sister and nephew, who struggled for 20 years until they sold it to Dubonet-Cinzano, who in turn did little to develop the brand. However, Salon’s extraordinary global cachet was formed as a result of a wartime love affair. Bernard de Nonancourt, the late president of Laurent Perrier, was a sergeant in the French 2nd Armoured Division and part of the first group of Allied soldiers to reach the Eagle’s Nest and Hitler’s huge wine cellar, which contained hundreds of bottle of stolen 1928 Salon. De Nonancourt fell in love with the Champagne and vowed to purchase the estate if it was ever up for sale, which he did in 1989: Laurent Perrier combined Salon with Delamotte resulting in the Salon-Delamotte house. Since the Laurent Perrier acquisition quality has improved and Salon continues to adhere to Eugène Aimé’s minimum of 10 years ageing before the wine was released to market and only in exceptional vintages.

Salon Le Mesnil focuses on maintaining its natural fresh, racy acidity, allowing it to age and improve for more than 30 years. It displays unbelievable levels of complexity on the nose and the palate creates a harmony between a linear freshness and a broad, round weighty mouth-feel. Galloni describes the 2002 as ’utterly mesmerizing’, while Salon describe it as the ‘vintage of the century’. In 2011 a bottle of 1955 Salon sold for a record price of $5,944 at an Acker, Merrall & Condit sale representing the desire of collectors the world over to own the greatest Champagne. The 2002 will be a legendary wine and command a stratospheric price in 10 years’ time. Salon’s European allocations were cut in 2002 and it is already hard to come by, as such we are delighted to be able to offer a tiny parcel of ten cases of Salon Le Mesnil for the first time.

Salon “S” Le Mesnil 2002, 3×75 - £780 IB or £945.45 including duty and VAT

Antonio Galloni, 96+ Points·
The 2002 Salon is utterly mesmerizing. I have tasted the 2002 six or seven times since its release and even during those two months or so the wine has developed quite dramatically, as some of the exuberance that was present at the outset has begun to recede, revealing the wine’s intense underlying minerality. The 2002 is a huge, dense wine loaded with fruit. All of the classic Salon citrus, slate and floral notes are present, but it is the wine’s superb textural richness that stands out most. Even though I have not followed my own advice, I suggest readers to plan on cellaring the 2002 for a good number of years. Because of its density and depth, I expect the 2002 will develop into a fairly exotic, voluptuous Champagne, within the context of Salon, of course. I also suggest keeping an eye out for the magnums, which are sure to disappear from the market pretty much the minute they arrive. Drink: 2017 – 2042

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