Monday, 14 March 2011

Salon '99 launched with fish 'n' chips

Salon is one of those mythical wines like Pétrus and Yquem that you usually only ever hear about other people drinking. But I got lucky last week. My editor was unable to attend the launch lunch for Salon '99, so I gallantly stepped in in his place.

Rather than a swanky, seven-course do, Corney & Barrow rather stylishly opted to host the lunch at trendy fish 'n' chip restaurant Geales in Notting Hill. I'd often heard about the brilliance of Champagne and fish 'n' chips – The Wine Society staff swear by the ritual every Friday, so was keen to try the pairing out for size.

Based in the village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, known for its chalk-rich soils, Salon, made from a single cru and a single grape; Chardonnay, is only released in exceptional years – just 37 vintages have been released since it was founded in 1905. The Blanc de Blancs spends 10 years ageing on the lees before disgorgment.

Salon president, the dapper, debonair Didier Depond*, introduced the wine, quipping that it was the first time he'd ever tried Salon with fish 'n' chips: “1999 was an exceptional vintage, and the resulting wine is naturally sophisticated and rich in flavour, but it’s difficult to judge its character at the moment, as it’s still only a teenager." Having already compared 1997 to Audrey Hepburn for its femininity and grace, I push Depond for a '99 comparison. "It would be a pretty boy actor, like Brad Pitt. It’s unmistakably masculine, but also beautiful and elegant."

Bottled in 2000, the '99 vintage will be disgorged in batches of 2,000 every six months. Only 50,000 bottles will be produced. Vinification is entirely in stainless steel, and there is no malolactic fermentation. The dosage is a bone-dry five grams per litre of residual sugar.

Speaking with Depond, he tells me Salon is becoming more and more of a collectors' item, and is enjoying considerable success at auction. "People are going mad for the magnums, because it’s the best size for ageing Champagne, and we only release a very small amount of them. The older vintages are selling at crazy levels in Hong Kong, London and Paris.” Salon jumped 20 places from 46 to 26 in the Liv-ex Power 100 chart last year, coming in just two places behind Krug.

So what of the combination? I thought it worked incredibly well with the battered haddock, cutting through the fat with its zesty freshness. Pale gold in colour, with small, ebullient bubbles, it had an intense citrus nose, almost like lemon drops, with accompanying notes of white flower, white fruit, and bitter almond. Light and refreshing and yet steely and direct on the palate, it had youthful lift, assured elegance and underlying purity. Contrary to Depond, I found it feminine, fragrant and perfumed – perhaps more of a Grace Kelly than a Brad Pitt.

A half case of Salon 1999 will be available through Corney & Barrow for £950 from mid-May.

*Picture of Didier Depond courtesy of Jamie Goode

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