If you are like me and when you think about champagne, you think about tall thin glasses, bubbles and festivities or special moments.
At a tasting organised by Piper-Heidsieck in Brussels I learned not to think about bubbles. And I can see the point. In fact the champagnes from the Piper-Heidsieck house are noticeable for having been praised as one of the best wines in France, not just one of the best champagnes. And true to the nature of this champagne, most of the tasting took place in normal wineglasses – large and round. Only the basic brut of Piper-Heidsieck was served in what we would call a standard wine glass.
In fact I think it was the first time I really tasted a champagne, rather than just using it as an accompaniment to a celebration or enjoying the bubbles – not least thanks to Regis Camus, the excellent wine-maker from Piper-Heidsieck, who guided us through the bottles and the glasses. And what treasures champagne do hide, when you get to taste different years, different kinds of champagne and in glasses that allow the wine to open and reveal itself.
It also says a bit about Piper-Heidsieck that M Regis Camus has been awarded sparkling Winemaker of the Year in London on several occasions the recent years.
For me the Piper-Heidsieck is mostly a taste of citrus fruits – at different levels and textures depending on the combination and the year. But a citrus fruit, orangy, zesty taste was for me the line through the different bottles. A taste which becomes even more obvious, when you try a demi-sec Piper-Heidsieck. In that bottle you reach tastes comparable to the advanced sweet dessert wines such as Passito de Pantelleria or the Wine of Constantia from South Africa….but with bubbles of course.
Another pleasant surprise was the champagne Rosé. Again tasted in a normal wine glass, you had none of the sticky sweetness some rosé wines can have. In fact you would probably find it difficult to differ between the Rosé and the other champagnes in a blind tasting.
The Piper-Heidsieck is made predominantly on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir occasionally. The grapes are collected from the best parts of Champagne and the combination of the grapes is left to the fine noses of the Piper-Heidsieck people to ensure a consistent and high quality Piper-Heidsieck taste. Great pride is taken into ensuring that the Brut is of high quality also, since it is not only the main trade mark of the house, but it is also the basic for the more refined other champagnes, such as the millesimes. Piper-Heidsieck does not believe in making a millesimes every year – only when the year really merits it.
Your favourite champagne is a personal matter. I will admit that I have recently tended to avoid the big houses, such as Piper-Heidsieck, in favour of more artisanal champagne producers. However, having tasted Piper-Heidsieck in a thorough way I can only say that it is a remarkable champagne, that I would be very happy to try and build an entire meal around and to enjoy as not only a champagne with its festive bubbles, but as a wine with a value in itself.