This is THE wine that built the very fine reputation of the house of Joseph Perrier.
A truly delicious glass, this is subtle, fine and complex with notes of peach, apple and pear, alongside pineapple an lightly toasted almonds. Lively and yet supple, there is a delightful freshness that is never insipid or too limp - this is perfectly balanced between with tension of structure and prettiness of flavour.
The wine is made from almost exactly equal parts Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, which gives a genuinely regional balance (there is slightly more Chardonnay in practice, but it's imperceptible in the blend). Their vineyards are based on the slopes of the Marne and all face south, to get as much sunlight as possible; the volume from these vines accounts for about 20% of their total production requirements, with the rest coming from long-term agreements with local growers. One of the fascinating points about Champagne is that because of French inheritance laws, the ownership of land in the region is split among about 17,000 people each owning about 2 hectares, which makes the sourcing of grapes a very interesting and somewhat variable process.
The wine is made with 100% malolactic fermentation but has no use of oak barrels and is interestingly made with 20-30% reserve wines and about 75% of the wine of the last current vintage. They produce moderate quantities of this wine in Champagne terms, of just shy of a million bottles per anum; it's aged for years in the chalk caves that act as their cellars and is bottled using a Diam cork, which is the type of cork made by breaking down loads of other corks and then moulding them back together. This has the immediate effect of reducing cork taint in the wines from 3% to almost Zero. impressive stuff! It is said to hold shape better than traditional corks too, which should, in theory, make the wines age better and for longer. This is research in progress at the moment!
The Joseph Perrier story has a few cool point along the way - appointed by both Queen Victoria and Edward the 7th (hence the Cuvée Royale trademark), the wine was perfected because of the friendship of the grand-nephew of Perrier (who was the owner at the time) and one certain French scientist, Louis Pasteur, who was critically important to the wine industry (possibly moreso than the dairy industry even!). And another favourite historical piece (sadly totally historic now) is that it was the Champagne served on Concorde's first flight. Ultra-sonic Champagne.
It's a house that depends massively on export - over 70% of their volume is shipped outside of France and it has almost always been seen as a boutique, artisan house where quality would never be sacrificed in favour of quantity.
In the old days, we used to meet people and chat about wines over a cup of coffee. But when I met the export chap from Joseph Perrier, we met over charcuterie and glasses of Champagne made by this excellent, family-run and totally underrated house. Discussing the history of land guarantees for the price of grapes in the post-War era, climatic issues of the last 20 years, methods of disgorgement, dosage quantities and the different plots of land used by many different producers in the region, I had a fascinating time.
But what impressed me more than local and historical knowledge, was the ethos of attention to detail and quiet excellence that is manifested as humility, wrapping a core of nervy, focused tension in the wines. These are, first and foremost, delicious wines made from excellent parcels of grapes grown in the 23 hectares of the family vineyards in Chalons-en-Champagne, including the famed strip that sits in between Roederer's and Dom Perignan's most prized parcels. Cover crops grown between the vines to keep any spraying an absolute minimum. It's definitely working, as half of their vineyards are certified organic. Natalie Laplaige has been the cellar master since 2017 and came to the winery because of the freshness and purity that mark their character.
Stylistically the house sits between the leanness of Ayala and Lanson, and the richness of Charles Heidsieck and Louir Roederer, which is typically what is said about Pol Roger; so if you like any of these (and you really should) then this is very much for you.
Grape(s): Pinot Noir, Chardonnay
Style: Fresh, Elegant, Complex, Bright
Best food matches: Sushi, St Stephen's Day, Shellfish, Poultry, Lobster, Fine Dining, Christmas Dinner