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The Gates of Champagne Salon

Salon – expensive, but never dearer

Eugène-Aimé Salon founded Champagne Salon at the beginning of the 20th Century. He was a native of Champagne and from humble origins became a wealthy Parisian furrier and socialite. Champagne Salon arose when he decided to create his own Champagne, primarily for consumption by him and his society friends. Such was his obsession with perfection that he succeeded wonderfully.

1905 was the first vintage, and three more followed before the first world war. But it wasn’t until 1920 that the House became established with a commercial vintage, the first one being 1921. From 1928 until 1957, the wine was the house Champagne at Maxim’s, the (in)famous Parisian restaurant. Now ranked among the most outstanding wines of Champagne, Salon is a Blanc de Blancs, being 100% Chardonnay from a single harvest and a single Grand Cru terroir. Over a century later, little has changed.


Champagne Salon might be less well known than other Blanc de Blancs, such as Comtes de Champagne by Taittinger, Clos de Mesnil from Krug, or the Belle Epoque of Perrier-Jouët. Yet, Champagne enthusiasts recognise that the quality standards it sets for itself are phenomenally high.

Indeed, Salon is the only producer in the world that doesn’t make wine every year! Most years are inadequate for Salon,  so the grapes go to sister-house Champagne Delamotte, across the road. The President of both these Champagne Houses is Didier Depond, and since 1988 both are part of the Laurent-Perrier Group. This stable business footing has helped Salon retain its rarity and perfectionist standards.

Consequently, there were just 37 vintages of Salon made in the 20th Century, and there have been only five more since*. Even when a Champagne harvest is a generally excellent one, (such as in 2012) this fact alone is no guarantee that Salon will decide to make the wine. Instead, the wine made only when the harvest has the potential for perfection.

Salon - le Jardin

Salon – le Jardin

Grand Cru Vineyards

Champagne Salon is made only from low-yielding Chardonnay vines grown on the deep chalk of a single village – the Grand Cru rated Mesnil-sur-Oger on the Côte de Blancs. It’s regarded as the finest terroir for Chardonnay in all Champagne. Indeed, Salon was the very first Blanc de Blancs ever to be created, a style we now expect most Champagne Houses to have in their repertoire.


Champagne Salon makes only this single wine, though it was renamed Cuvée “S” and given a distinctive bottle in 1976.

Salon owns just one hectare of vines in Mesnil-sur-Oger, bought in 1905. It’s called Le Jardin de Salon, which is next to Salon’s cellars. In 1921, the first commercial vintage, Salon needed more grapes. Hence it sources other Chardonnay grapes, but only ever from nineteen other nearby plots in Mesnil-sur-Oger. There was once the twentieth plot, but since 1979 that one makes Krug’s Clos-de-Mesnil!

Champagne Salon 1996

Champagne Salon 1996


The quantities made are, by Champagne standards, small. The maximum in any Vintage is 80,000 bottles, but frequently far less. 1996 was just 36,000. 95% of it is exported worldwide, with the UK allocation usually around 2,000 bottles, via distributors Corney and Barrow.


In their interpretation of the Traditional Method, Salon uses only the Tête de Cuvée – the best juice from the first pressing made at Mesnil-sur-Oger. The remaining liquid, excellent by most other standards, goes into Champagne Delamotte. Then the first fermentation is in stainless steel with natural yeasts at Laurent-Perrier, in Tours-sur-Marne. There is no malolactic fermentation or use of barrels. It’s Chardonnay at its most naked.

With no malolactic, the firm acidity means that the wine will develop only slowly, over decades. The second fermentation and subsequent maturation take place in Salon’s cellars.

Time’s Transformation

This maturation time is for a minimum of 10 years, sometimes much more. It’s the longest of any Champagne.

The wine is ready only when thought to be optimally mature, so releases are not necessarily in vintage order. The style sought is, in the words of Didier Depond, one of “freshness, cleanness, elegance and precision.”

All the cellar work is manual, including riddling the bottles and disgorgement.  A low dose of balancing sugar then follows; the exact amount depends on the vintage, but only a small amount is necessary for the Brut style.

Champagne Salon,  Cuvée S.  Grand Cru  Blanc de Blancs  Brut.  1996. 12%

1996 was only Salon’s 35th release. Didier Depond thought it one of their best because the Champagne harvest that year had a now-legendary combination of exceptionally high sugars and high acidity. Moreover, he suggested that this wine would continue to develop over the next fifty years.

I bought two bottles of 1996, shortly after their release in 2008. The first was to celebrate an upcoming “significant birthday.” The second kept for the next significant birthday ten years later. Consequently, as this article compares the two below, it’s taken a decade to write. Champagne Salon needs only a moderate chill and is worth decanting. As for food, this is a complex wine, so stick with the classics, perhaps Lobster Thermidor or Sole Meuniere.


1996, in 2008

Bright, lemon-yellow colour, still retains green flecks, looks youthful. Bubbles are tiny, with rapid rising streams. Initially a little austere on the nose, but not a trace of oxidation.  Plenty of complexity on offer; almonds, baked bread, pastry, lemon and pear fruit, a hint of ginger spice before flinty minerality to sign-off. A subtle balance, very dry, almost Extra-Brut in style. An excellent wine, both lovely and delicious. But after all that build-up, the expectation is sky-high. Where’s that elusive and indescribable extra dimension?  Undoubtedly, there are years of development ahead. So despite all that time already spent in the cellars, it’s an excellent wine but still not fully ready.

1996, in 2018

Precisely ten years later. Now a deeper mid-gold, with amber flecks rather than green. The mousse is now lazier, still with tiny bubbles, but the bubble streams languorous – imparting a dreamy, unhurried quality. There are full aromas of new bread and Danish pastry wafting from the glass. There’s still lemon and pear fruit, now overlaid with cinnamon and a savoury, truffle scent. The palate is powerful, has become creamier and broader. Yet simultaneously it’s also weightless, poised and elegant. The acidity is still wonderfully fresh and precise, perfectly balanced. Tarte Tatin, ginger spice and caramel weave with a flinty minerality. Gradually becomes nutty on an exquisitely long fade – almonds, brazils, hazelnuts. Now this wine is profound!

That this wine developed from being “merely” excellent into a profound experience is genuinely breath-taking.  Now it shows why it’s one of the most memorable and life-affirming Champagne experiences. Yet there’s still the potential for more. Only patience will bring these rewards.

And Finally

Sad to say, but there is no third bottle for the next significant birthday, and financially speaking, this 1996 has become out of reach. But no regrets; be content with having the privilege to experience this spectacular wine not once, but twice. Maybe there will still be other bottles of Salon to try in the future.  Meanwhile, I’ll open a bottle of Champagne Delamotte’s Blanc de Blancs, knowing that within it is just a little bit of Salon’s extraordinary spirit.


Champagne Salon
5-7 Rue de la Brèche d’Oger
51190 Le Mesnil-sur-Oger

*All the Salon Vintages  –  decade by decade

1905, 1909  –  1911, 1914 – 1921, 1925, 1928  –  1934, 1937  –  1942, 1943, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949  –  1951, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1959

1961, 1964, 1966, 1969  –  1971, 1973, 1976, 1979,  –  1982, 1983, 1985, 1988  –  1990, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999

2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008


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