Champagne is a complex masterpiece involving multi staged blending procedures, multiple fermentations, extensive autolytic ageing, dosage and disgorging carried out over many years which makes Champagne the ultimate display of science, patience, knowledge and art.
Admittedly this is of little interest to the majority of champagne drinkers.
It is the lifestyle that Champagne encapsulates; the hedonistic world of power boats, polo and (if you are lucky) princes. It is the drink of the ‘beautiful people’. This luxury association is one of the great successes of the Champagne houses.
However, Champagne, especially younger Champagne, has a fairly racy acidity which is suited to food rather than the aperitif occasions for which it seems to be predominantly drunk. Maybe we are getting old, but all this racy acidity is a recipe for heart burn which does not quite fit the glamorous lifestyle of the rich and famous. The problem is that it requires patience for the acidity to soften and integrate through ageing, and quite often consumers are adverse to the added complexity and richness that aged Champagne assumes.
So, for all you Champagne Charlie’s with heart burn who don’t feel like gulping Gaviscon in between crystal flutes of champers, the wine monkeys have happened upon the perfect Champagne for you.
It is the newest cuvee from the pedigree stable of Billecart-Salmon; the Billecart-Salmon Sous Bois. Now, not only are we Champagne lovers, but we also love to taste something a bit different so this fitted the bill nicely. Unlike the majority of Champagne’s on the market the Sous Bois is entirely vinified in oak.
On initial examination we must admit we were under-whelmed by the label. Though it was obviously depicting the age rings of a tree, it is the colour of caramel Angel Delight which brings back less than attractive memories of school dinners circa the 1980s.
The proof, however, is in the pudding. The nose is a beautifully seductive and richly elegant combination of toffee, yeast and baked apples. The palate is unashamedly upfront with a sweet American toffee apple and vanilla entry. The mid palate is a delight, the acidity, though fresh, has a softness to it that allows the wine to caress the palate, the autolytic notes are subtle but dance in the background enhancing the vanilla oak notes. As one would expect from Billecart-Salmon, the mousse is fine and persistent, the finish long but mellow.
Though the Sous Bois doesn’t have the intense complexity and depth of the other top oaked Champagne’s, and its modern vanilla toffee notes could be considered somewhat ‘nouveau riche’ in style by more traditional tasters, it is undoubtedly a beautifully made, premium, crowd-pleasing wine. This is an attribute far too often over looked by many wine geeks, especially when catering for weddings or large celebrations. It is most certainly the Champagne of choice to be drinking at the next exclusive polo event, where its glamour and enjoyment will last beyond a single chukka.