Occasionally in the 1980s, when driving away from the late Al Ricciutti’s Champagne house just north of Epernay, I would pass through the village of Le Mesnil. Though it was an undistinguished village to the eye, a stately house along a curve in the main road always caught my eye. It appeared to be uninhabited, yet its upkeep was immaculate, and I would make a mental note to stop for a better look sometime.
That better look never really happened. My visits to Champagne became less frequent as my stay in Europe drew to a close, and when in Avenay-val-d’Or to pick up some of Al’s delicious Champagne, other pressing business got in the way. During the one day I did stop to talk with a grass cutter in front of the chateau, I learned the house went by the name “Salon.”
As much as I thought I knew about wine and wine regions, Salon meant nothing to me till just a few years ago when I first read the Kelstrup’s delightful book Wine and War, which opened with French soldiers from Champagne “liberating” Salon Champagne fromHitler’s secret caves in the Berchtesgaden Alps. That became my first inkling of the significance of Champagne Salon, le Mesnil.
Since then I have read several fascinating versions of Salon’s history and uniqueness, how it is produced only in vintage years (Only 37 vintages since 1905), only estate Chardonnay grapes go into it, and how little of it is produced.
Till a couple years ago, I had never seen a bottle of it. In Bloomington, Javad showed me four bottles he had obtained for his Sahara Mart, but he could not say whether he ever intended to sell them. He admittd to getting them through “special lucky circumstances” and that my guess of a $400 purchase price was “off the mark” by considerable. In this month’s DECANTER, Stephen Brook reports the latest per bottle release price is 780 English pounds.
This piece is not to sing the praises of Salon. It doesn’t really need much more praise. But it’s to point out how easily we can overlook real class. My observation of the Salon house, though favorable, greatly misunderstood and underestimated its significance. I doubt I’ll ever have a chance to taste Salon, and for the moment, I do not see a visit to the Champagne country in my plans. But if I do get to Le Mesnil, I will ask the grass cutter to take me to his leader.