After our breakfast toast at Clos Saint-Hilaire, our group headed over to the Billecart Family Home to enjoy our highly anticipated lunch.
We started with a magnum of Brut Reserve (latest base 2018), as this is a part of the house’s Savior Faire with Nicolas François. I have a lot to say about our conversation while enjoying this champagne, but I will touch on this at a later date.
About Nicolas François Cuvée
“This exceptional cuvée was created in 1964 as a tribute to the House’s founder. It results from the blending of Grands Crus from the classified Côte des Blancs vineyards (Chardonnay) and the Montagne de Reims (Pinot Noir). Its vinification, partially in traditional oak casks, underpins the generous character of this fine, elegant and rich wine.”- Champagne Billecart-Salmon
If you have been to a Billecart tasting with me, you know this story already, but I love to share it, so here we go!
In 1999, Billecart-Salmon’s vintage 1959 won top champagne at Richard Juhlin’s Champagne of the Millennium, where almost 150 champagnes were blind tasted. It won over some very famous champagnes such as Dom Pérignon 1964, Dom Ruinart 1979, and Krug Collection 1961, to name a few.
So in 1964, the same blend as the vintage 1959, became cuvée Nicolas François, created in homage to the house’s founder.
Now back to our lunch….
I have been very excited to share the experience I had when visiting Billecart back in April ahead of the launch of Nicolas François this week in the US. So yes, you can now access the ’08 stateside, and feel free to reach out if you need any help sourcing it!
Nicolas François 2008
NF '08 is 83% grand cru and 17% premier cru, pinot noir from the Montagne de Reims and the Grande Vallée de la Marne (Aÿ, Verzenay et Mareuil-sur-Aÿ.) and 40% Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs (Mesnil Sur Oger, Chouilly, Cramant). 17% of the production was vinified in oak barrels, with long lees ageing lasting 12 + years, 60% malolactic was blocked, and dosage is just 2.9 g/l, with an additional year post-disgorgement to integrate the liqueur de dosage.
Mathieu admitted that his goal was to release all the ’08 founders' cuvées at the same time, but unfortunately, Nicolas was not ready, and took the longest to be just right. 2008 provided a lean and mineral year, but for ageability, the wine needed to gain more strength.
At our lunch, we not only tried the NF ’08, but we were able to try it in both Magnum and bottle, as well as some other gems from the cellar.
Asperge blanche gratinée, Morilles
Nicolas François 2008 en Magnum
Nicolas François 2008
One thing to note about the two above (other than the very clear magnum effect and tension in the larger format), is that the Magnums were cork capped, and bottles were crown capped. This is a choice of the house to adapt based on the profile of the year, and if they had crown capped the magnum, they would have had to keep it much longer.
Enchanté, Nicolas François 2008! This cuvée gave me so much on the nose, layers, complexity, characteristics of the aging, and on the palate, it was a different profile, with tension and purity, refreshing and mouthwatering. A complete and utter pleasure drinking this, and with every sip of both the magnum and bottle, the glass changed and became more complex, more interesting, and more tantalizing. I thought to myself- how can it get any better than this (making a mental note to grab a bottle or two to store and enjoy in the future, knowing this is going to be even better!)? Regardless of your level of wine knowledge or champagne experience, you will be completely seduced by this bottle, and it is one of those champagnes you will not forget. It will most definitely elevate every occasion it is opened for.
Dos de cabillaud, Wakame, Epinard
Nicolas François 2002
20% of the product is vinified in oak barrels. Partial malolactic fermentation. Aging on lees in the estate’s cellars for 10 years. Dosage is 4g/liter.
Oh how I love this ’02 as it is just seems to age so gracefully. It has been a couple of years now since I have had the ’02 in Magnum, and it just keeps getting better. To be honest, when the 2002 was opened, the group was deep into conversation and so I didn't write any notes, but I do remember taking a brief moment with this one.. and smiling to myself.
Assiette de Fromage
Nicolas François 1998 en Magnum
There is just something about ’98 in Magnums… this has got to be one of my favorite Billecart champagnes I have ever had.
98 is a good year, but not a great year. It can be a rich year, so maybe with the magnums (over time), we have hit the sweet spot!
56% Pinot Noir (Ambonnay, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Verzenay) 44% Chardonnay (Cramant, Avize, Mesnil Sur Oger), dosage is 6 gr, which was low for its time, and disgorged November 2007. This is more of an expression of the Billecart Style rather than the year, because their signature cold fermentation gives the wine an acidic backbone, and magnified by the magnum of course, enables the wine to keep better freshness and purity for longer. Mathieu believes that the '08 will go in the same direction of the 98, but with more freshness, hence why he pulled this one out for our lunch.
For me, I couldn't help but linger on the fact that you get everything from this bottle right now. You clearly spot the umami and tertiary notes, but the undeniable freshness is so captivating. This was truly a special moment in my own history with Billecart, and so grateful to have tried this.. right at this time!
Pavlova, Rhubarbe de Marne
Elisabeth Salmon 2008 en Magnum
I don't think that a Billecart lineup is complete without rosé. Both their brut rosé and Elisabeth Salmon are benchmark champagne rosés. The 2008 has grown in concentration, richer, more depth, more exotic since its release. Although gorgeous upon release in 2021, she grows in beauty with time. Speaking about this, Mathieu mentioned that Elisabeth is the cuvée that evolves and changes the most, and this could be due to oxidation impact on rosés over time.
Billecart-Salmon’s Nicolas François 2008 is not only the last ’08 in it’s triple founders' cuvées to be released (Elisabeth in 2021, Louis in 2022), but also the last prestige cuvée amongst Grand Marques in Champagne. This is not a reason to just assume it is better because it has spent more time on the lees. What is important to note is the time needed for this particular cuvée to be ready to drink and pleasurable now. After spending the time during this visit with Mathieu and discussing everything from viticulture to winemaking, I feel like I have finally figured out why my friends and clients love Billecart-Salmon so much (whether they can define this for themselves or not).
The house is obsessed with creating quality wines, and not only quality, but pleasurable upon release. Their goal is to make every consumer (not just critics and wine connoisseurs) enjoy every sip of their champagne, and.. to smile at first sip.
“We learned a lot from 1996 vintage. There is a lot of '96 on the market, but many were not as strong as they could be because they were not aged enough.”- Mathieu Roland-Billecart
Nothing irks me more than when I opened ’08 champagnes and thought to myself, this is not ready, or as enjoyable as I think it can be, as it needs more time.
I did not feel this way when drinking Nicolas François 08, or any other Billecart for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the '08 has the structure to age beautifully, and I look forward to enjoying how this will evolve, but I would be pleased to open a bottle now, and confident to suggest to any of my clients.
Billecart-Salmon strongly believe that the first impression HAS to be right, and they have one chance for this, so if things take more time, if the recipe has to change, if the philosophy has to evolve, they will do it. They do not chase trends, and stay true to their DNA while always looking towards the future. I must say, they make my own job very easy, as I know when I open a bottle of Billecart (and hope to open the NF '08 soon), I know that everyone in the room will smile at first sip.