It happens all the time. I get a call for Dom Perignon which I don't carry and I offer Billecart-Salmon instead. The caller invariably says, "No thanks", adding that no one ever heard of the alternative and Dom has the reputation for being the best and yadda yadda yadda. Not wanting to lose possible customers before I could possibly cultivate them into being solid future customers, I assure the caller that I understand but at some point during the brief conversation I mention that Billecart-Salmon often gets critics' ratings that are higher than Dom at a third of Dom's price. That comment never goes anywhere.
I actually do understand the caller's point of view. Champagne, itself, is symbolic. It symbolizes celebration and achievement and the marketers of Champagne use that symbolism to amp up the dollars for those they are able to project as being at the top of the heap. I don't have a problem with that. If Champagne were like other wines and it was more of an everyday dinner accompaniment, then my point of view may have more credence.
Champagne, like all other wines, is dominated by the big players. Not only do they set prices in Champagne but they create styles that are marketed as the style of that particular historic Champagne house and more. With a bankroll of advertising dollars and the right admen, a large Champagne house can create the illusion that they have perfected the product. Look no further. This is it! I guess that is what Moet & Chandon have done with Dom Perignon.
Billecart-Salmon is a medium-size Champagne house. It dates to 1818 (when Billecart married Salmon) and seven generations of the family have run it since then. They own five hectares of vineyards in Mareuil-sur-Ay and source mostly Pinot Noir grapes from the Marne Valley and Montagne de Reims for their award winning Rose. A map of the heart of the Champagne country is shaped like a mushroom, by the way, with Mareuil-sur-Ay being at the juncture of the cap and the stem on the right side.
Here is a glossary of adjectives for Billecart-Salmon Champagne: creamy, delicate, delightful, elegant, fine, balanced, beautiful, harmonious, racy, rich, and fresh. Okay, that's a little over the top. Stephen Tanzer, who is as good as any critic, says this pale gold sparkler has a nose of fresh peach, pear, nectarine, and white flowers. On the palate it is plush, ripe, and fleshy with strong peach and pear flavors with minerality on the finish.
Please join us on Friday August 30th from 5 to 7pm as we taste another crop of new wines that need to be explored including the 2009 Charles Krug Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. We'll see if the noble Krug Cabernet tradition is still intact with this latest example. Please stop in this weekend for your holiday wine and cheese needs and become a follower of this site so I can claim some kind of accomplishment for doing this.