Summer’s heat is clamping down on much of the country right now, which means it’s time to enjoy the kind of wines and spirits that refresh as much as they intrigue. My white Wine of the Week—actually, it’s a rosé, and a stunning one, at that—is the Champagne Billecart Salmon Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon Brut Rosé 2008, a wine that both exemplifies what makes this venerable house so important, and at the same time challenges expectations.
Billecart Salmon has deep roots: They stretch back to 1818, and in the 200-plus years since the marriage of Elisabeth Salmon and Nicolas François Billecart, the house has remained family-owned and operated. Today, it’s helmed by Mathieu Rolland-Billecart, the seventh generation of the family to do so. The wines, as has been my experience for decades now, continue to inspire and impress.
The Brut Rosé NV remains a benchmark of the style, and the Brut Sous Bois NV showcases how profound and delicious an impact creative uses of oak can have on great non-vintage Champagne. But it’s the Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon Brut Rosé 2008, which was just released this past May, that I can’t stop thinking about.
It’s a blend of 55% Pinot Noir from both the Grande Vallée de la Marne and the Montagne de Reims, and 45% Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs. It’s gorgeous color comes from old-vines Pinot Noir from the Valofroy vineyard in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ that were produced as a still wine and then added to the cuvée. The result is a Champagne of surpassing beauty, with a gorgeous balance between depth and freshness. Aromas of gently toasted brioche spread with strawberry jam, subtle spice, and a bit of dried rose petals and bergamot hover above the glass. These precede a palate this is precise without sacrificing any bit of generosity, with flavors of red cherries, wild strawberries, rhubarb compote, gently toasted English muffins, and saline suggestions that linger through the long finish. Mathieu Rolland-Billecart, on a recent virtual tasting, suggested that saffron and pepper notes will develop with time, which should add even further complexity to a wine that already has tons of it. It’s delicious now, and promises to evolve for decades longer, given its structure and concentration. This is a prestige cuvée that more than earns its place near the top of the Billecart Salmon pyramid.
My red Wine of the Week, the Peteglia Montecucco Sangiovese Riserva 2016, comes from a Tuscan appellation that may not be as well-known as some of the region’s most famous ones, but that should be. Montecucco, located south of Montalcino, is a gorgeous region that has stayed close to its agricultural roots for generations. It was designated as a DOC in 1998, though Montecucco Sangiovese had to wait until 2011 to earn its DOCG status. I had the good fortune to visit and taste throughout Montecucco in 2019, and was beyond impressed with the quality and deep character of reds, whites, and rosés there, as well as the passion of the producers I met. In the intervening two years, things seem to have gotten even better.
I recently tasted with the new president of the Montecucco Consortium, Giovan Battista Basile, who brought me up to speed with what’s happening in this gem of an appellation. Most notable, he said, is the excellent biodiversity and the increasing importance of organics and sustainable grape-growing and winemaking: Over 70% of Montecucco Sangiovese bottles are labeled and certified organic. And because the agriculture there includes not just grapes but also olive trees, chestnut trees, livestock, and more, the focus on the overarching health of the land is of deeply held importance.
That respect for a sense of place comes through with shimmering clarity in the best of them, and the Peteglia Montecucco Sangiovese Riserva 2016 is a great example. Hailing from what Battista calls the best vintage in the past 20 years, this wine is gorgeous right now, with impeccably integrating oak, sweet Middle Eastern spices, and a bresaola character to the red cherries, brambly berries, allspice, star anise, cocoa powder, hazelnuts, and green olives. Hints of dried lilacs and violets, as well as lavender, sage, and oregano, lend this further layers and length. This is great now and will continue to improve for another decade, though there is absolutely no need to wait that long. At around $45, this is an excellent value, too.
I also recommend the Poggio Trevvalle Pontolungo Montecucco Rosso 2017, whose primary, brambly berry fruit is framed by serious tannins spiced with notes of sarsaparilla and a deep seam of minerality. Flavors of wild strawberries, red cherries, and cherry pits ring through each sip, and grippy, assertive tannins will pair deliciously with any sort of grilled meat you enjoy alongside it. It’s tough to beat at $19.
Finally, I can’t think of a better spirit to ring in a hot holiday weekend than the Glendalough Rose Gin, a layered, expressive spirit that leverages several different types of rose petals, in addition to a fascinating range of other botanicals, to result in a gin that is particularly lovely in a gin and tonic.
And the story behind it is just beautiful. Back in 2016, head distiller Kiaran “Rowdy” Rooney wanted to craft a special gin for his brother’s wedding. Their mother Rose had passed away two years earlier, and in honor of her, and her passion for rose gardening, they picked a number of them from her garden. These were added to the still, and the character they brought to the spirit was so well-received at the wedding that Rowdy decided to pursue the idea on a commercial level.
Today, Glendalough employs a full-time forager who scours the local landscape for the range of botanicals that go into it, including water mint, which Rowdy noted adds a savory “petroleum” note. I love how that sense of savoriness serves as such an excellent counterpoint to the sweeter notes, and how the juniper and citrus flavors subtly vibrate in the background. The rose character is extremely well-calibrated, too. I highly recommend it, both now and throughout the year. It’s an unusual gin, yes, but highly successful, and an excellent addition to any bar cart.