I was fortunate enough this week to attend the William Grant portfolio tasting in London, where amongst the many high-end spirits on show, was a single table of Champagnes. In all honesty, the chance to taste some of Piper-Heidsieck's line up was my main reason for attending. Besides, I needed a tipple to console myself due to being (possibly) the oldest person in the room! A spirits tasting event brings out the hip, hairy and pierced, so tweed jackets and red trousers were a strange absence.
Piper-Heidsieck Essential Cuvée Brut NV (Limited Edition, numbered bottles)
This Pinot dominant blend is not available in the UK at this point in time, though I would love to see it over here as it's my kind of wine. The IWSC have awarded it an 'Outstanding Gold' medal.
Cépage is 55-60% Pinot Noir, 20-25% Pinot Meunier, 10-15% Chardonnay and the balance is Reserve Wine. The high percentage of red grapes and Reserve Wine content, coupled with 36-40 months of lees ageing makes this a serious NV champagne. To enhance that serious character, the wine goes against the grain of most of its PH stable mates by having a lower dosage of 7g/l.
Perhaps a champagne for those with 'experienced' champagne palates, rather than those new to champagne, this wine is both powerful and elegant with aromas of orchard fruits, grapefruit and white flowers, accompanied by a little smokey minerality. In a wine like this, I think the Pinot Meunier is welcome, to soften the blend a bit.
Piper-Heidseick Vintage Brut 2006
The 2006 vintage is a fairly even blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with around 7 years of lees ageing under its belt. I found this to be quite a soft and generous wine - perhaps due to the full malolactic fermentation used at PH, and also due to the fairly high dosage of 11g/l. It is still elegant though, and perhaps a higher Pinot Noir content would render it a little austere.
The wine finishes long with lingering apple, almond paste and blackberry notes, merged with some toasty aromas, citrus and spice. Drinking well now but will gain complexity with patient cellaring. IWC Gold Medal.
Piper-Heidsieck 'Rare' 2002
The main event! In all honesty, this was my second or third taste of the '02 Rare and once again, it did not disappoint. The 'Rare' wines are just that - a Prestige Cuvée made very infrequently - only when the metaphorical 'planets align'. The '02 Rare is the 8th (and current) iteration of this wine since it's first bottling in 1976 and is a very impressive wine.
For all the quality of big name/well known prestige cuvées, PH Rare seems to be lost amongst them, at least to the 'nightclub drinkers' or 'special occasion buyers' - let's hope this changes, though that would leave less for those of us who already love it. Part of Rare's appeal is its (relative) readiness to drink so soon after release. (Due to Montage de Reims Chardonnay..?) Yes, of course it will take years to reach it's pinnacle, but if you were to drink this beside a recent release of Cristal or Dom Perignon, I think it would show it's cards a little more. Drinking newly released Prestige Cuvées is more about spotting potential than instant gratification, though I feel I got a little more of the latter with Rare '02 than I expected.
The blend is 70% Chardonnay (Montagne de Reims) and 30% Pinot Noir with 7 years of ageing on its lees. The wine introduces itself by means of gun smoke and light, tropical fruit aromas. Mineral nuances are in sync with others in the range, and the finish is long, silky and beautiful. I spent a while chatting with this wine in my hand and it kept developing and altering during that time. As mineral and smokey notes ebbed away, pineapple and lime curd showed themselves. A star of the future and an IWC Sparkling Wine of the Year 2014 award.
Piper-Heidsieck 'Rare' 1998 (en Magnum, as that' all it comes in)
I'm a huge fan of 1998 Champagnes, and was very much hoping this wine would take my breath away. Tasting the other wines in PH's line up and saving this until last was not easy - its large format bottle and gold, metallic, filagree label were beckoning from the far end of the table. I felt like a child being asked to finish his dinner with his pudding in sight.
Decadence aside, drinking from magnum is exciting, as wines in this format take a different ageing path than their little siblings. As per the 2002 Rare, the 1998 is a 70/30 Chardonnay/Pinot Noir split aged for 7 years on lees.
This wine has the prettiest, gently tingling bubbles delivering waves of aroma to the surface. I've never been to Marrakesh, though I swear there was a little of it in this wine. Gingerbread and orange blossom abound, followed by woody notes, dried fruits, jaffa cake and faint truffles.
The 1998 Rare has, at this point, a divine balance of primary, secondary and tertiary aromas and I would happily drink this now. Nonetheless, like most great Prestige Cuvées, it has long legs. It's a wine you find yourself holding in the mouth before swallowing, hoping that the warmth will release yet more aromas. IWC Sparkling Wine of the Year 2012 & 2013