The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Expert Picks: Billecart-Salmon and…Billecart-Salmon!

Posted on | June 22, 2015 | Written by David Gwo | No Comments

David Gwo 12.8.14Champagne is the universal celebration beverage; however, people forget that you can enjoy it all the time with a variety of different foods or as an aperitif. Summertime calls for a cold glass of bubbly to start a meal and liven the palate, or pair with foods like salads, oysters, or sushi. For these reasons, I’m suggesting a pair of delicious Champagnes today.

The Champagne region utilizes three grapes to make its world-renowned carbonated beverage, and they are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. While Pinot Noir is a “red” grape, all grape juice when pressed is “white,” even when pressed from red grapes. A red wine gets its color from being left in contact with the grape’s skins during the winemaking process, so even though you’d think Champagne is only made from white grapes, many Champagnes have Pinot Noir as part of their blends. In fact, Champagnes designated Blanc de Noirs is made from 100% Pinot Noir, but it pours a translucent gold because there’s no skin contact. The opposite applies to Rosés, both still and sparkling. The degree of “pinkness” depends on how long the skins were left in the juice.

Name the first Champagne that comes to mind; I’d be willing to bet that Dom Perignon or Veuve Clicquot are strong contenders. Don’t get me wrong, these two houses make great vintage Champagnes, and I’ll gladly sip on some La Grand Dame. However, true Champagne enthusiasts know there are many terrific houses to experience, and the one I’m going to focus on is Billecart-Salmon. Billecart-Salmon is one of the oldest family-owned operations in the region and it makes a phenomenal range of wines. If you’re passionate about Champagne and don’t know Billecart, it’s time to find a reason to celebrate!

Billecart-Salmon NV Extra Brut $69.99

There are two things to note here and both apply to all Champagnes. Champagnes undergo a second fermentation in bottle, and that’s where those glorious bubbles come from. Just before this second fermentation, something called a dosage is added; it consists of wine that contains residual sugar. This dosage determines how dry or sweet a Champagne is. The “Extra Brut” designation indicates that it is dryer than “Brut” and only slightly sweeter (if you can even call it that) than receiving no dosage at all. Secondly, “NV” stands for “Non-Vintage”; any bottle of wine that doesn’t have a year on the bottle is a non-vintage Champagne. This means the wine used to make the Champagne comes from a blend of multiple years. This bottling is a great introduction to Billecart. It’s a Champagne that has a little dosage, giving a full expression of the character of wine. This bottling uses all three of the Champagne varietals, and it’s thrilling on the palate. It’s precise and linear with zesty acidity that bolsters flavors of stone fruits, lemon, and minerals.

Billecart-Salmon 2004 Vintage $79.99

“Vintage” Champagnes are only made in the best years, so when you see a year on the label of a bottle of Champagne, it’s safe to bet that it’ll give a good demonstration of what that particular house can do. 2004 was a great year for Champagne and Billecart’s vintage Champagnes are always “Extra Brut,” consisting of a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, sourced from Grand Cru classified vineyards, the highest classification a vineyard in Champagne can achieve. All of these choices culminate to form an exemplary Champagne that doesn’t break the bank. Aromatic notes of citrus fruits, brioche, and flowers lead to a palate that offers great body, depth, and balance. Vintage Champagnes are meant to be cellared, so if you can keep your hands off this bottle, do. There’s no rush!

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