After a delightful morning spent tasting finished champagnes at Charles Heidsieck, we popped over to sister house Piper-Heidsieck to taste the Heidsieck 2017 vins clairs (and were subsequently treated to a range of reserve wines and one very special champagne!). Our tasting was hosted by Champagne legend and Chef de Cave Régis Camus along with his deputy Séverine Frerson & International Brand Ambassador Catherine Curie.
Apparently, we weren’t the only ones who’d been busy tasting that morning. As we visited in early March – during which time much of the blending is done in Champagne – Camus and Frerson had just finished tasting 48 Pinot Noir still wines. “We are looking forward to the freshness of Chardonnay,” Camus smiled – and so it was with Chardonnay that we began our insight into the 2017 vintage.
Vins Clairs 2017
Although Camus began by telling us it wasn’t a terrible year in general, it quickly emerged that Chardonnay was the saviour of the vintage. We tasted Chardonnay still wines from the Côte des Blancs and the Montagne de Reims and both were showing quite forward fruit quality – mature grapes had produced much more mature still wines than expected.
The first, Montgueux – a village Piper have shared with Veuve Clicquot and Henriot for 40 years – was the only plot not affected by adverse weather in 2017. “If 2017 had been a good year, all would be as nice as this,” Camus added. The second, Trépail – a rare Chardonnay village in the Montagne de Reims – Camus described as “usually like a gentleman’s horse… but this year a stallion!” Rich and balanced yet with an excitable nervosity, this needs time in the bottle to be tamed.
|Montgueux | Autre Cru, Côte des Blancs
Lovely richness on the nose, lots of upfront tropical notes especially pineapple, mango and lemons. Quite smokey and spicy on the palate and long finish.
|Trépail | Premier Cru, Montagne de Reims
Very lemon rich with ripe apples , good balance on the palate with more spicy character on the tongue and lots of pink grapefruit and some lychees.
The Pinot Noirs however, did not fare as well in 2017. Although some villages in the Côte des Bars survived, the bigger plots in the Montagne de Reims were “very complicated”. Camus and his team even found undesirable aromas of moss and fresh mushroom in Grand Cru plots such as Verzy – as such these will not go into the blending this year and will likely end up in the distillery. “We don’t all have the same perceptions of these negative characteristics and so we have to careful discarding them,” Camus commented. “They are maybe not good right now, but there is something – will it grow? We have to taste it many more times to see if it can offer something.”
For our educational benefit, Camus shared with us a sample of Pinot Noir from Verzy, which had been subject to hail and rot throughout August and would not be used in the blending. Understandably, winemakers typically prefer to show off their best quality vins clairs, so this was a rare and welcome opportunity to taste a less-than-perfect still wine.
|Les Riceys | Autre Cru, Aube
Very delicate and pretty. Lots of aromatics, raspberry and underlying spice gives a great mouthfeel. Really strong acidity.
|Verzy | Grand Cru, Montagne de Reims
“Example of a bad vins clairs” says Régis. Really musty mushroom nose and tastes very out of balance, has a real grip of bitterness and tannin and the little bit of fruit is overpowered.
Finally, we tasted a selection of Pinot Meunier from different villages across Champagne. Although a difficult year for Pinot Meunier also, Camus was much more pleased with these than the Pinot Noirs. “We have great balance from the Pinot Meunier… flesh of fruit from Jouy… freshness from Courmas… and maturity from Petit Morin,” he said.
|Jouy-lès-Reims | Premier Cru, Montagne de Reims
Some raspberry, redcurrant and apricot. Lots of acidity.
|Courmas | Autre Cru, Montagne de Reims
Interesting nose, is it elderberry? Loads of apricot and bramble.
|Le Vallée du Petit Morin | Autre Cru, Côte des Blancs
Some redcurrants & peaches but not much richness. Has quite a bitter finish.
Overall, 2017 was most certainly not a straightforward vintage for Piper-Heidsieck. Complications throughout the Montagne de Reims rendered much of the Pinot still wine unusable. However, the promising potential of the Chardonnay leaves Camus believing a vintage champagne is possible.
Following our vins clairs tasting, we went further back in time and tasted some reserve wines from two very good but very different vintages: 2008 and 2009. “In the Chef de Cave job, it is very important to think of the right wines for the future – the reserves provide that facility,” Camus said. All three were classic Piper-Heidsieck: a zesty and fresh style that distinguishes this house from Charles Heidsieck – as such these are all exclusively Piper-Heidsieck reserve wines.
Villers-Marmery 2009 is notable for its incredible ageing potential, Avize 2009 is revered for the richness that it lends to the Piper-Heidsieck 2008 blend, but Verzy 2008 is the real winemaking weapon. With its intensely fresh lychee character and stunning aromas, Camus said it will be “a sad day when we have to use up Verzy 2008”, although he noted that, ultimately, “regularity and consistency of the Brut NV is most important.”
Camus told us that, fortunately, you do not need to use much of particular reserve wines when the quality is so high. “The question is not how much percentage but the types of reserve wine,” he explained. Camus likened his stock of reserve wines to that of an old library: “You have huge big books and small poetry books – the small ones can have the best quality.” Essentially, the older more powerful reserves can have an impact that far outweighs their percentage contribution.
|Villers-Marmery 2009 | Premier Cru, Montagne de Reims
Has rich smoky charm and white flower aromatics. So much fruit and richness – apricots and lush dried fruits.
|Avize 2009 | Grand Cru, Côte des Blancs
Wow, so much fruitiness and richness. Great mouthfeel with a hint of peach, mango and nectarine. Reminiscent of Gewürtztraminer.
|Verzy 2008 | Grand Cru, Montagne de Reims
Smokiness and very ripe lemons and lime. Lovely mouthfeel. Really great acidity, complexity and texture.
To conclude our visit, we tasted some finished champagnes from the Piper-Heidsieck range, which included a surprise ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ champagne experience. Leaving our tasting room, we were led to a small open-air courtyard decorated with a picturesque wall of vines that replicated the experience of overlooking a vineyard. Awaiting us on the small serving table was a 6L Methuselah, that’s 8 x 75cl bottles!
Although impressive enough alone, the liquid inside was the real star – Piper-Heidsieck Rare 2002. Having spent more than a decade on the lees, bottles of Rare 2002 were disgorged in May 2016 and decanted into the Methuselah, which was subsequently laid in the cellars for nearly 2 years. With only twelve in existence, the magnitude of the occasion cannot be overstated. A champagne that is frequently decorated at awards ceremony the world over from bottle – and even a previous winner of Best Champagne at FINE Champagne magazine – takes on a whole new dimension from Methuselah.
|Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut NV
50-55% PN, 30-35% PM, 15-20% CH | Base Vintage: 2013 | Reserve Wine: 10-20% | Dosage: 10 g/L
Has some of that smoke we had in the Verzy 2008. On the palate has richness, lemon and smokiness. This has a lovely texture. 17.5+/20
|Piper-Heidsieck Essentiel Cuvée Réservée NV
50-55% PN, 30-35% PM, 15-20% CH | Base Vintage: 2011 | Reserve Wine: 10-20% | Lees Ageing: 4 Years | Dosage: 6 g/L
Has a nose that reminds me of Chenin Blanc, lots of lemon richness and chalky texture and nice fresh finish. 16/20 I prefer the 2012 base.
52% CH, 48% PN | Lees Ageing: 7 Years | Dosage: 9 g/L
This has such a richness, all that concentration of lime and lemons and yeasty bread character with chalky soft texture. Very nice lingering finish. 18/20
|Piper-Heidsieck Rare Rosé 2007
56% CH, 44% PN | 15% Red Wine | Lees Ageing: 8 Years | Dosage: 9.5 g/L
Very delicate nose, with red berry fruit and rose petals; an abundance of raspberry, redcurrant, strawberry and ripe plums flavours with spiciness, fresh acidity and hint of saline character, lovely savouriness! Delicate yet lush and a lovely long finish. 18.5+/20 Potential to age…
|Piper-Heidsieck Rare 2002 Methuselah
70% CH, 30% PN | Lees Ageing: 13 Years | Disgorged: May 2016 | Dosage: 9.5 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 22 Months
Wonderfully full-on nose, its quite the show-off, power of fruits, bundles of ripe tropical fruits, like mango and pineapple and grapefruit and its on the palate the texture is so fine and silky, that chalky character and saline hints with a nice refreshing balance from the acidity. Length +++ 19+/20