A visit to the Perrier-Jouët Cellars in Epernay:
If Mumm is the champagne for sporting heroes, the other champagne house in the Pernod Ricard portfolio, Perrier-Jouët is the beautiful, romantic heroine waiting for her prince. Perrier-Jouët has a long-standing association with the Arts and throughout our visit, we were constantly surprised by the works of art hidden away in the caves and on display in the tasting rooms. That association goes back to Adèle Jouët’s love of the arts and to Henri Gallice’s involvement in the Belle Époque era.
The history of Perrier-Jouët is something of a romantic tale in its own rights. The story of a cork manufacturer, Pierre Nicholas Marie Perrier who married 19-year-old Rose Adelaïde (Adèle) Jouët, the daughter of a Calvados producer. Together they set up the champagne house Perrier-Jouët in 1811. By 1815 they were shipping champagne to England and by 1837 to the US. It seems that Adèle focussed on the winemaking, while Pierre was responsible for developing the export business, with such a level of success that by 1847 exports represented nearly 90 per cent of the sales.
After Pierre’s death, his son Charles took over running the business. It was Charles who created the first ever Brut champagne when he decided not to sweeten his 1846 vintage before exporting it to London. After his death, Perrier-Jouët passed to the Gallice family and Henri Gallice was responsible for commissioning Emile Gallé to create the famous Art Nouveau design of Japanese anemones. Sadly the design was too expensive to produce and it wasn’t until 1964 that the original magnums were discovered and Perrier-Jouët decided to revive the design and use it for vintage champagnes. The first Belle Époque cuvée was released in 1969 for the birthday celebrations of Duke Ellington in Paris.
I’ve been lucky enough to go to a couple of Belle Époque events in London – the first to celebrate the Limited Edition Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque Florale Edition champagne, 2004 vintage was held on the fifth floor at Harvey Nichols, the second at The Magazine for the Belle Époque Edition Première 2007, where I met Cellar Master Hervé Deschamp for the first time.
In Épernay at the Perrier-Jouët cellars, I met Hervé again, this time, to taste the crus used to create a Perrier-Jouët style and then, thankfully, to taste the real thing.
Both Mumm and Perrier-Jouët own a large proportion of their own vineyards. In the case of Perrier-Jouët, some 65 hectares, including reputedly the best plots of the Côte des Blancs. Our first cru tasting was a Cramant – which I’d expected to be the same as the Mumm version. Mumm acquired Perrier-Jouët in 1959 and both houses are now owned by Pernod Ricard. In fact, it was so markedly different that I thought it was an aged wine. It was chalky and soft – really remarkable. We went on to taste crus from Choilly, where Perrier-Jouët has a long-standing négociant agreement, Aÿ, Mailly Dizi and Damery. Perrier-Jouët also has 9 hectares in Avize, another Côte des Blancs grand cru.
A tour of the cellars was remarkable for the ‘hidden’ works of art. I particularly liked this work. Commissioned by Perrier-Jouët for Design Miami 2012, it somehow seemed perfectly at home in the cellars. The piece, Lost Time, is by London-based partnership Glithero.
One of the caves was set aside for ‘personal’ cuvees, something that is perhaps even more of a luxury than having your own perfume. We were fascinated by the shelves, some still with bottles being stored but most empty, of artists, pop-stars and designers who had their own Champagne.
And, there was the amazing Eden cellar housing the oldest champagne vintages. Our guide explained that one bottle was opened in March 2009 for a tasting of the Perrier-Jouët 1825, which is recognised as being the oldest remaining Champagne in the world. Now, there are just two bottles left. Apparently, it tasted fabulous – of truffles and gingerbread and was still perfect. The bottles have been stored in the same place since they were first laid down and are never touched!
We went on to taste some of the champagnes – Grand Brut, Belle Époque 2007, Blason Rosé and Belle Époque Rose 2006. I suspect that in addition to tasting the range, part of the idea was to expose us to the difference between the non-vintage and the vintage champagnes. Certainly, I particularly liked the Belle Époque Rose, with its subtle rose and red berry notes. But, if I am honest, I wouldn’t turn down a glass of any of them!
After the champagne tasting, we went for lunch and the opportunity to pair the champagnes with food, created for us again by Joséphine Jonot.
We started with Belle Époque Blanc de Blancs 2002, both as an aperitif and paired with the seafood amuse bouche. Of the Perrier-Jouët champagnes, I have tasted this is probably my favourite. Like all Blanc de Blancs, it is 100% Chardonnay, very light and floral with fine bubbles. It is also entirely from the Cramant cru – from two particular plots in the Perrier-Jouët vineyard.
Next, the Grand Brut, served with a beautiful lobster anemone – a tribute to the bottle design – set on a light jelly of lemon infused cucumber and garnished with a little caviar.
Then the Belle Époque 2007 with goujons of turbot on seaweed and butter sauce, garnished with vegetables and flowers.
Finally, the Belle Époque Rosé 2006 which was paired with dessert – a coconut surprise, filled with fruit and ice-cream and perfect with the slightly sweeter, strawberry and rose fragranced Rosé.
A fitting end to a wonderful experience. The cellars at Perrier-Jouët are not currently open to the public, but there are plans afoot to do so in the near future.
With many thanks to Perrier-Jouët for hosting us on this part of the voyage to Champagne.
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