A Tale of Two Bottles

It was a cosy little tasting in the private cinema of The Soho Hotel with Régis Camus last night. The raison d’être was, of course, the UK launch of Rare Rosé 2007, which proved to be truly something special, but that was not all we were treated to. We tasted five different cuvées, each paired with food.

Piper Heidsieck Brut
50-55% Pinot Noir
30-35% Meunier
10-15% Chardonnay
(including 10-15% Réserve)
We kicked off with the entry level non-vintage and gosh how well it showed! Under Remy-Cointreau, the late, great Daniel Thibault developed a brighter, clearly fruit-driven style to keep its distance from the brut non-vintage of Charles Heidsieck, while at the same time shifting away from the more austere style of Piper under its previous owners, the d’Aulan family. Since Daniel’s untimely death, Régis has moved the Piper Brut style and quality closer to Charles, while stopping short of actively copying it by focusing more on Pinot Noir and Meunier, less on Chardonnay. It is now one of the most consistent, high quality, amazing value Champagnes on the market, with a delicious freshness of fruit and intense mellowness that makes chef de caves of other far more expensive Champagnes green with envy. It was a perfect match for the Parmesan risotto.

Piper-Heidsieck 2008 Brut
55% Pinot Noir
45% Chardonnay
The new Piper 2008 is due to be released in the UK in Q2 next year. This is as fantastic as the vintage itself. It is certainly the greatest vintage of the first decade of the new millennium and Piper is one of the best, with intense, knife-edge crispness of fruit and Piper’s hallmark spiciness. I just love it. Drinking gorgeously well now, it will only get better as the decades go by, if you have ideal storage conditions, so collectors should be ready to grab it while they can!

Piper-Heidsieck Rare 2002
70% Chardonnay
30% Pinot Noir

Rare 2002 (Lot number 159907 4137)

Rare 2002 (Lot number 159907 4137)


The only relative disappointment of the night was the normally super-consistent Rare 2002. This is the tale of two bottles and it was a pity because Rare 2002 is one of my favourite Champagnes of all time. I don’t think it had a fault as such, but for anyone who regularly drinks this wine the bottle we tasted on the night was marred by slightly aldehydic aromas. I am used to revelling in the majesty of this great wine and at the tasting it was just good, not majestic. It did not smell or taste “faulty” per se, just a matter of cork porosity I think. A tiny bit more oxygen ingress in this particular bottle than in all the others, and this led to the aldehydic aromas. As soon as I got home, I opened a bottle of Rare 2002, as readers can see here (Lot number 159907 4137), and it was perfect: so majestic, so smooth, so sumptuous. Decadent even. With absolutely no aldehydic aromas! Régis really should have opened a second bottle at the tasting because everyone should have gone away spellbound.

Piper-Heidsieck Essential Brut
50-55% Pinot Noir
30-35% Meunier
10-15% Chardonnay
(including 10-15% Réserve)
This is, essentially, the non-vintage Brut with an additional year on yeast and the one we tasted was (as the back-label revealed)the 2010-based blend with 13% reserve wines, bottled in May 2011, and disgorged December 2014 with a dosage of 6g. It is a minor miracle, as anyone who knows what the 2010 harvest in Champagne was like can testify. There are blends that are blighted by a small amount of 2010 used as a reserve wine, yet this is 87% 2010 and just so, so good. Anyone with 2008-based Essential in their cellars can forget about it for a decade or so, and it will will be mind-blowing. Readers might have picked up the odd bottle of Essential at duty free in UK airports, but it will be available in the UK itself as from Q2 2017, albeit restricted to the on-trade. The pairing here, with sweet & sour crispy pork was as good as it gets.

Piper-Heidsieck Rare Rosé 2007
56% Chardonnay
44% Pinot Noir
This is what we were all there for. The opportunity to taste the very first cuvée of Rare Rose, the Rare Rosé 2007. Just 150 bottles have been allocated to the UK (currently available at Harrods and Hedonism) and anyone who thinks that £325 is rather steep should be thankful that it is a top of the range cuvée from Champagne because if it had been a top of the range Burgundy, they could easily expect a four-figure price-tag and some can even demand five-figures! If you have deep enough pockets to buy Rare Rosé 2007, it is certainly an exciting Christmas present for the Champagne aficionado who has (almost) everything! It is really teeming with Pinot Noir aromas, showing great minerality and purity. Despite the majority of Chardonnay, this gorgeous cuvée is just so Pinot driven. The Chardonnay might play a more dominant role in the future, but currently it is in background mode, beautifully underpinning the Pinot fruit with its freshness and elegance. This is such a masterful display of selection and assemblage that I can imagine Daniel, Régis’s old mentor, looking down and smiling ….

Lanson on-trade in magnum

When Lanson released their stylishly presented ‘Pere et Fils’ (effectively the previous release of Black Label, benefitting from an extra year on yeast) exclusively for the on-trade, its invigoratingly fresh, crisp fruit and long, complex finish made it a natural gastronomic Champagne, but there was no magnum.

I asked Philippe Baijot, Lanson’s CEO, how on earth anyone could consider launching a Champagne specifically for the on-trade and not offer it in magnums, the ideal format format for the on-trade?

Serving by the glass from magnum is not only easier (less bottles to open!), but more appealing to knowledgeable customers. True aficionados of Champagnes always prefer to drink by the glass from a magnum than purchase by the 75cl bottle.

Well, this week I got my answer, Lanson Pere et Fils in magnum! Mrs S and I drank half on Monday and deliberately left the other half stoppered in the fridge until Friday to see if it maintained its freshness and it passed the test with flying colours: still full of fizz and with even more pronounced fruit than when first opened. I look forward to my first Lanson by the glass somewhere!

Champagne 2016: The Great Escape!

Two months ago it looked as if 2016 could be one of most disastrous vintages in Champagne’s history, but in this northerly, Atlantic-influenced region, vintages are made or broken at harvest time more often than not. Here is the latest vintage news received from one of today’s most talented chefs de caves, Frédéric Panaïotis of Champagne Ruinart:

“Harvest at Ruinart began on 17th September this year (20th at the historic Silléry vineyards), and finished on 1st October in the Côte des Blancs. The vintage was earlier than expected thanks to a dry, sunny August, and for the first time in many years, the Chardonnay grapes were harvested after Pinot Noir and Meunier. Conditions during the harvest were perfect for ripening, with warm sunny days and cool nights, and the grapes were in perfect health with few outbreaks of powdery mildew. Yields from the second part of the harvest were very satisfying, in particular Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs and Pinot from the Vallée de la Marne.

“Tasting has now started and the musts are offering fresh fruit and a lively feel on the palate, demonstrating the high quality of the grapes. Alcohol fermentations finished in the first week of October, followed by malolactic fermentation. The reds were racked off at the end of September and appear promising.

“Overall, a challenging year has turned into a ‘miraculous’ vintage thanks to the high quality harvest, and we are looking forward to tasting the 2016 wines!”

High-res images of the Ruinart vineyards are available on request, and you can find specially commissioned illustrations of the Ruinart harvest by Ugo Gattoni on Ruinart’s Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/ruinart/

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