Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé $8 vs $80 Blind Tasting Showdown

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The highly regarded Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé (left) retails for $85
Piper Sonoma is much more affordable sparkling wine from California
I'll be the first to tell you I'm inexperienced when it comes to sparkling wines. I've got very little in the way of reference points in this category and since mistakes can be especially costly with Champagne I've been hesitant to stretch my budget for more expensive bottlings.

When I first started exploring categories a few years ago I'd go about it differently than I do today. In the past I'd seek out 90+ rated wines costing as little as possible to gauge whether I liked a certain category. In hindsight that might not be the best way to go about categorical wine exploration.

For example, take 2005 Bordeaux. There are gads of wines rated 90+ points costing $30 or less - heck - even $20 or less. And they're fine, but they don't rise to anywhere near the levels of wines costing around $50-$100. The flavor profile might be similar but you really get a richer experienced with a nice, well aged Bordeaux than you do with most affordable entry level wines - even the ones which are rated well.

So rather than nibble at the bottom of the 90 point wines, I thought to instead go for the gusto and proceed immediately to one of the marquee wines in the category. After hearing so many independent glowing references for Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé the past few months I had to try it. But rather than taste it in isolation I thought it would be interesting to compare it side by side with an affordable domestic sparkling brut rosé. I went with Piper Sonoma Rosé since I had it as a Thanksgiving warm-up and thought it served its role nicely.

And to avoid pre-conceived notions from creeping in I served the two wines blind to our guests Christmas Eve. I told them we were tasting a (roughly) $80 Champagne and an $8 sparkler from California. Their challenge was to identify which wine they thought was more expensive and also which they preferred.

Since I was pouring the wines I knew which was which, so my opinions may have been clouded by the knowledge of which was which. But the preferences of our guests were clear: 3 out of 4 preferred the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé and 3 out of 3 who were willing to wager a guess as to which was which correctly identified it as the one from Champagne.

We tasted the Piper Sonoma first. The color was more copper/orange than pink or salmon. The bubbles were larger and it was more bubbly in general than the Billecart-Salmon. The nose on the Piper Sonoma was fruity and the wine was more flavorful. But it was also rowdier and less refined than the Champagne.

The Billecart-Salmon was subtle, but very classy. It had an inviting nose and a gorgeous salmon color not too dissimilar from its attractive label. It had fine bubbles, a silky mouthfeel an overall elegance that made it stand out from the domestic wine it was being compared to. There was very little doubt in our guests minds which wine was better and which was from Champagne. Some said you could "taste the forthcoming headache" in the Piper Sonoma.

The Billecart-Salmon costs almost 10x as much as the Piper Sonoma. Was it 10x better? Probably not. More like 2 or 3 times better. But isn't that the case with most wines?

I'll probably splurge for the Billecart-Salmon at some point in the future. But more than anything tasting it gave me a feel for what you get when you spend a little more in this category. I like what I saw in the wine and I'll look forward to continuing to explore the category. I think it would make for a fine selection for New Year's Eve.

If you'd like to try these wines here's where I bought them:
Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé on Wine.com
Piper Sonoma Brut Rosé from the Wine Cellar of Stoneham

Question of the Day: Have you tried the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé? If so, what did you think? What are some of your favorite sparkling wines?

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