Champagne Joseph Perrier
Our Senior tutor Chris Hambleton investigates...
Go to most of the villages in the Champagne region and you will find a myriad of producers, co-ops and Grande Marques, but if you go to the actual capital of the region, Chalons, you will only find one. At the foot of a small hill that houses their underground cellars is Joseph Perrier. Headquarters is a traditional French house, still bearing the scars of that slight contretemps known as World War One. What was once an old coaching house now contains fermenting vessels, settling tanks and bottling lines. Chalons lies about half an hour away from the main vineyards that Joseph Perrier own and have under contract, meaning the logistics of wine making are trickier than for some of their competitors. Most grapes are pressed at facilities very close to the vineyards, the juice is then ferried by tanker to the winery.
The house was established in 1825, the family having previously been wine merchants based in Epernay. There is a distant family connection to both Perrier Jouet and indeed Laurent Perrier, but Joseph Perrier is entirely independent of both of these. Indeed independence is something increasingly rare in the modern era, but Joseph Perrier is very much family owned and run. Some Champagne houses are, shall we say, a little haughty at times, whereas others are far too touristy with train rides through the cellars, Joseph Perrier is none of these things, simply welcoming and pleased to see people taking an interest in their products. Jean Claude Fourmon is the current head of the operation, a charming and engaging man whose passion for his wines is clear for all to see.
Joseph Perrier source grapes from throughout the better vineyards of the region, including Chouilly, Haut Villiers, Verneuil and Cumieres and Claude Dervin, the Chef de cave and the third generation of his family to hold the post, makes good use of this high quality fruit.
Due to some good timing (and the winemakers being slightly behind) we were able to taste the Vins Clairs which had been chosen for that years’ blend, before the addition of reserve wines. I have been able to do this several times at different houses and it never fails to be both an enlightening and revolting exercise. The acid levels in Champagne are cause of much debate, however I can assure readers that the finished article is far, far less acidic than the base wines. The most interesting thing however was the result of blending the three in roughly equal amounts – more flavour, more balance and more length straight away.
Pinot Noir (Cumieres)
The most flavour of the three, showing some light Pinot character, light strawberry nose, light on the palate with a lower acidity than the other two, but still of course very high, some very light cherry notes and a little creaminess.
Pinot Meunier (Verneuil)
Soft, rose petal/ floral nose, lemon and unripe strawberry palate with an edge of bitterness, searing acidity.
Light green apple, lemon and green melon nose. Palate showing strong unripe green apple and light lemon, a little minerality and just a touch of richness. Very high acidity, very pure and clean, some weight here.
Some general thoughts from Jean-Claude – Higher acids than usual in Pinot Meunier, Lower acids and higher potential alcohol in Pinot Noir. 2008 is currently considered to be very good and they will probably make a vintage and also a prestige cuvee. Overall average potential alcohol was over 11% for 2008.
Joseph Perrier Cuvee Royal N/V
The ‘Royale’ tag stems from Queen Victoria – JP was her favourite fizz. In an era of ever-decreasing cellar ageing, this cuvee gets a full three years before disgorgement and that shows through on tasting. Pale gold, persistent mousse. Toasty notes along with peach and green melon on the nose, some bruised apple character. High acidity, the mousse quite aggressive - recently disgorged? White peach, a hint of spiciness to the lemon notes on the palate. Long and lingering finish. Not the richest champagne in the world but certainly an excellent aperitif style. 87/100
The following day we tasted a bottle that was much calmer and more together on the palate, leading me to upgrade to 89/100
Joseph Perrier Blanc de Blancs N/V
100% Chardonnay from 10 different Crus and aged for around four and a half years. Blanc de Blancs is a forbidding style as many don’t know what to make of it – the accessible style of this wine however may well change a few minds. Very Pale gold, almost silvery hues, very light and delicate mousse. Floral and white peach nose, some creamy character. The palate is quite fruity for a BdB, approachable peaches and cream palate. Cleansing acidity but nothing harsh, good biscuity finish and a minerality there as well. Better with food (Salmon Timbale) later on. 91/100
Joseph Perrier Cuvee Royale Rose
Another wine with long cellar ageing (4 years) this has Cumieres rouge added to it to give the colour. Delicate rose pink, lively mousse. Very open strawberries and cream nose, perhaps a little jammy? Lovely, creamy mousse, lots of Pinot Noir character with plenty of backbone and richness from the Chardonnay, ripe raspberry and strawberry fruit backed up with a rich biscuity flavour, some spiciness on the finish which goes on for a good minute or so. The extra ageing really helps this along – excellent wine - 94/100*
*This one made the Krug Rose tasted the previous week look very ordinary and given thr price difference I know I’d rather have 6 of these!
Joseph Perrier Vintage 1999
Golden hues in this vintage wine with a more delicate, smaller bubble in the glass. Rich brioche and ripe red apple on the nose, the Chardonnay (50% of the blend) shows through with butter and the extended lees ageing gives a granary bread edge. Full bodied, red apple, ripe beach, nutty, almost malty flavour, perhaps a little pineapple and a hint of cherry. Long finish with crisp acidity. Stylish stuff. This was the best of the 99’s on show at the CIB tasting last week, although the field was limited. 90-91/100
Cuvee Josephine 2002
Named for JP’s daughter, Josephine is one of the lesser known tetes de cuvees. Luminous pale lemon yellow, very delicate mousse. Strong white peach and melon nose, minerality, a little smoky/ toasty hint here and there, perhaps a little young and closed on the nose. Quite aggressive mousse, again very lemon and peach driven to start, then some minerality, a bit more stone fruit given some air, toastiness starting to show through. Excellent long finish which a nutty complexity. Plainly a few years before this reaches maturity but tastes very close to Belle Epoque 1998. 92/100 for drinking now, with the potential to reach 96+ given time.
Cuvee Royale Demi Sec.
Interesting that Jean Claude did not fancy a glass of this with us…
Very pale, light mousse, showing very little on the nose but for light stone fruit and a little lemon. Light peach fruit on the palate, a little white bread complexity, finish dies away quickly. Lacks a little finesse and leaves the tongue feeling a little coated, acidity a little too low and lacking complexity. 82/100
Article by Chris Hambleton, Senior Tutor at Chateau Harry