At the awards ceremony of the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships this month, one of the gold-medal-winning wines on show was the 2008 Laurent-Perrier Brut Millésimé in magnum. Rich yet tantalisingly and refreshingly dry, a decade of age in the large-format bottle had brought out the wine’s hidden depths – so much so that on the night it sparkled in more ways than one. Talking to the chairman of the awards, Tom Stevenson, I discovered that it was his view that while many champagnes are improved by the larger bottle, the transformation is all the better expressed in the case of Champagne Laurent-Perrier.
Grand Siècle, named after the era of the Sun King Louis XIV, is the jewel in the Laurent-Perrier crown. Although the ancient house dates back to 1812, it was only after the second world war that it burst on the scene when the flamboyant resistance fighter Bernard de Nonancourt took over the reins of the house, then ranked 98th in Champagne, from his mother Marie-Louise de Nonancourt. At a time when the concept of a blend of vintage years was virtually unknown, de Nonancourt saw fit to create a multi-vintage prestige cuvée in 1957, which was released in 1960 on the 300th anniversary of Louis XIV’s marriage. By combining the different characteristics of three great years, he was arguably the first to come up with the idea of the multi-vintage cuvée.
From today, well timed for the upcoming Christmas festivities, Laurent-Perrier’s Grand Siècle Iterations #22 and #24 will be served by the glass from magnum at Claridge’s – it will be the only destination in the country where the #22 can be ordered in this way. Iteration #24, consisting of 60 per cent of the 2007, 20 per cent of the 2004 and 20 per cent of the 2006 vintages, displays aromas of almond blossom and ginger spice, followed by a featherbed mousse of expansively creamy fine bubbles whose delicacy and freshness belie its savoury, dry finish. At £37 by the 175ml glass and £150 a bottle, it’s not far off the retail price. Similarly, at £41 by the glass poured from magnum, itself £330, Grand Siècle Iteration #22, blending 2004 (55 per cent), 2002 (30 per cent) and 1999 (15 per cent), is also little more than the retail price.
However, those who want to celebrate in decadent style might also order a magnum of the venerable, late-disgorged Les Réserves Grand Siècle #17. Originally launched to celebrate the house’s bicentenary, it is a selection of 1995 (60 per cent), 1990 (20 per cent) and 1993 (20 per cent) aged for 21 years on its lees, which will set you back £1,750. I haven’t tasted it but, according to the very fortunate Nick Baker of champagne retailer The Finest Bubble, who has, “it has smoky charm and freshness for its age, with that big whack of the 1995 vintage that has given it so much energy”.
Grand Siècle, made exclusively from grand-cru grapes, is composed of Chardonnay (typically 55 per cent) and Pinot Noir (45 per cent), skilfully blended by Laurent-Perrier’s chef de cave Michel Fauconnet, who retires this year after 45 years’ faithful service, before it’s aged in bottle and magnum for between 10 and 13 years in the company’s subterranean cellars. The Chardonnay comes from the Côte des Blancs vineyards of Le Mesnil, Oger, Avize, Chouilly and Cramant, while the Pinot Noir is sourced from Ambonnay, Bouzy, Mailly, Verzenay, Verzy and Louvois in the Montagne de Reims and Tours sur Marne in the Vallée de la Marne. Always beautifully complex and elegant, Grand Siècle is one of champagne’s greatest prestige cuvées.