In Praise of Larger Bottles


Champagne vineyards in the Marne valley

The other day I really had to pinch myself. I was sure that I was dreaming, but no I really did have the opportunity to taste four different vintages of Champagne Perrier Jouët’s Belle Époque – what is more they were from jeroboams, equivalent to 4 bottles each.

Belle Époque is Perrier Jouët’s Cuvée de Prestige – what Cristal is to Louis Roederer, Cuvée Dom Perignon to Moët (pronounced with a hard T) et Chandon and Comte de Champagne to Taittinger.

Unlike those cuvées Belle Époque is not sold in a replica eighteenth century Champagne bottle, but in the normal shape modern bottle that is decorated with the most gorgeous design created for Perrier Jouët by Émile Gallé in 1902. Gallé’s work is always wonderful to see as he was a major force behind the Art Nouveau movement that was at its height during the retrospectively named Belle Époque era epitomised by Edward V11, Maxims de Paris, Montmartre and Mucha’s wonderful posters – as well as Gallé’s decorative glassware. So powerful is the iconography of the time that even today I feel let down if a French restaurant is not resplendent with buttoned red velvet benches and gleaming brass.

I really like Champagne and would drink much more of it if I could. I adore the subtlety and finesse of great Champagne and the way the frivolity fools you into thinking it is just all about fun – like a Strauss waltz, an overture by Arthur Sullivan or a well crafted pop song there is so much more to it than seems apparent at first acquaintance.

This is especially true of vintage Champagne. Most Champagne is sold as Non Vintage, Multi Vintage in the US, as a way of keeping back fruit from the fewer great vintages to blend with the more common lesser years. That way this most northerly and unreliable wine region achieves a reliable product. Vintage Champagne though is the product of a single harvest, in Champagne this means, by definition, that it comes from a great year. Therefore there is richer fruit than non vintage years, but there is also often more marked acidity too – they are not solely about fruit and richness, everything else is bigger too.

Perrier Jouët has been one of my favourite houses ever since my first visit there in 1984 – like Taittinger they make very elegant wines that are of superb quality and wonderfully enjoyable whether you want to just revel in the pleasure they give or delve a little deeper for the complexity. In the past I have been lucky enough to drink a sublime 1982 Perrier Jouët Belle Époque that was still lively and balanced after nearly 25 years.

Either Neil Phillips has small hands or that is a jeroboam, clock the matching wallpaper

The Jeroboams

2002 Perrier Jouët Belle Époque

Lovely nose, still fresh & lively with brioches notes and touches of dried red fruit too.
Big palate, ripe round, fat ripe fruit, quite juicy apricot. Pastry & nuts creep in later with lovely, apricot drenched acidity on the finish. It finishes a little unexpectedly hard though with a touch of bitter hazelnut.
Much to enjoy and admire, but that hardness slightly spoils it and shows that it still needs time to develop. Knowing the vintage as I do, it will be superb – 90/100 points.

1998 Perrier Jouët Belle Époque

The nose was more developed with toasty nutty and spicy leesy notes.
The palate was rich and textured with dried apricot and more fleshy apricot textures. This gives the acidity and freshness, the ripeness gives weight, roundness and substance. Lovely and complete with hints of caramel, flaky pastry and lots of biscuit too, gorgeous nectarine acidity on the finish. This was delicious, but you can sense that it still has more to give, richness and complexity are still being held back making it seem deceptively simple – 92 /100 points.

1996 Perrier Jouët Belle Époque

Deep and golden peachy colour.
The nose was exotic, rich, concentrated and lifted with ripe and tropical fruit together with cream cheese and leesy notes.
The palate was rich and textured with pineapple like tropical fruit making it very soft and attractive in the mouth with an almost creamy nuttiness . This richness and ripeness was backed up by lovely balancing acidity keeping it fresh as a daisy.
The long finish delivered dried lemon and lime together with a minerality and delicacy that belies it’s power. This is gorgeous stuff with a long complex finish, but again I think it needs a little more time to give of its best. I hope I get to try it again – 95/100 points.

1995 Perrier Jouët Belle Époque

You could tell this was mature, although the cooler conditions of the year had produced a paler wine of pale bronzed gold with peach skin tones.
The nose was decidedly more delicate with creamy nuts, brioches, peach and apricot with some mineral notes too.
The palate was tight and mineral opening up to some soft white stone fruit texture of gentle peach and nectarine. Beautifully balanced with tighter dimensions and more fragrant and subtle finish than the 1996.
For me this more classic vintage produced a near  perfect wine, very long, taut and mineral, elegance personified – 97/100 points.

For me it seemed as though the 1996 was the superb Hollywood remake of a great French arthouse film, the 1995 – if you see what I mean. Both were quite stunning, but one was shy and discrete, while the other was a bit of a blockbuster.

Tasting these 4 different vintages of Perrier Jouët Belle Epoque from jeroboam was a wonderful experience and it was good to treat them as wines, to compare and contrast and to really examine them, as well as to enjoy them. I look forward to repeating the process with other Champagnes.

3 thoughts on “In Praise of Larger Bottles

  1. Pingback: My Favourite Wines, Top Discoveries and Experiences of 2011 « Quentin Sadler's Wine Page

  2. Pingback: Dom Pérignon 2003 « Quentin Sadler's Wine Page

  3. Pingback: A Champagne House to Thrill & Excite | Quentin Sadler's Wine Page

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