The fine art of bottling champagne

The work of leading artisans adorns the bottles of cuvées by two storied champagne houses

Image: Chris Burke

I can’t think of a more instantly recognisable champagne bottle than Perrier-Jouët’s prestige cuvée Belle Epoque. Decorated with a spray of white Japanese anemones edged in gold, it was designed in 1902 by a leading light of art nouveau, glass artist Emile Gallé. The Gallice family, who commissioned it, were big patrons of the movement, and that legacy is kept alive by Perrier-Jouët at the Maison Belle Epoque, an exquisite, five-bedroom guest house in Epernay with one of the biggest private art nouveau collections in Europe. 

Those who spend the night here can sip aperitifs under the gaze of a Toulouse-Lautrec, and toy with canapés while admiring works by Rodin and Lalique. They can play billiards overlooked by a very naughty mural from the famous Bal Tabarin, the Belle Epoque Paris cabaret bar, and sleep in a bed designed by Hector Guimard (he of the iconic Paris Metro signs). When I visited, in one salon I discovered a little walnut table by Gallé, supported by carved dragonflies and inlaid with the very same Japanese anemones that adorn Perrier-Jouët’s Belle Epoque bottle. 

Perrier-Jouët isn’t the only champagne house to work with a famous artisan. Piper-Heidsieck recently commissioned the world’s oldest jewellery dynasty, Mellerio, to create a design for Rare Le Secret, an ultra-limited-edition take on its prestige cuvée Rare. The inspiration for this was Marie Antoinette, a loyal customer of Mellerio in the 1780s and also a great lover of the cuvée created for her in 1785 by Florens-Louis Heidsieck (who founded Heidsieck & Co). That same cuvée is used for Rare today. 

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The centrepiece of the Le Secret design is a Marie Antoinette-style jewelled bow, set with a one-carat ruby, diamond, emerald or sapphire, and interwoven with golden bands studded with 150 tiny diamonds. It is a piece of haute joaillerie in its own right, and the £115,000 price tag reflects that (buyers also get a trip to the Mellerio atelier in Paris to have the gem reworked into a piece they can wear). A further 1,000 bottles of Rare Le Secret (boasting the signature lop-sided shoulders that hark back to the days when the bottles were mouthblown) sport a hand-engraved gold cartouche (£1,150). 

It would be easy with all this pizzazz to overlook the wine itself, which is equally resplendent: mature yet delicately fruity, with a lively acidity on the finish that defies its 20 years in the cellar. Will Le Secret be an artwork that’s recognised in 100 years, like Emile Gallé’s? I’ll let history be the judge of that.

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