As lecturer of Oenology at EHL, I organized a Champagne tasting session with my students from the Oenology Committee in the school's Peter Michael hall at the start of this year. The aim of this wine tasting was to compare and contrast two cuvées from our EHL Champagne partner, Laurent Perrier: their Grand Siècle cuvée no. 22 and Grand Siècle cuvée no. 24.
Maison Laurent Perrier
Laurent Perrier is renowned and relatively young among the "old" Champagne house. Founded in 1812, the estate was sold in 1939 to Marie-Louise Lanson de Nonancourt, whose descendants are in charge to this day. In terms of champagne history, the house stands out by its innovations: being one of the first houses to replace the concrete tanks with stainless steel and producing their zero-dosage champagne with no added sugar. In the 80s, they were the first to come up with Ultra Brut, while the Brut Nature (0-3g/l of sugar) Champagne category did not even exist at the time.
The Laurent Perrier style is also closely linked to the Chardonnay grape variety which is found in the majority of all their cuvées, except the Rosés. But perhaps the estate’s greatest signature is its prestige cuvée which does not follow established codes: Le Grand Siècle ("The Great Century").
The idea for a prestige cuvée concept was born in the 1950s, when Champagne houses saw a growing demand among their post-war epicurean and well-off clientele. All prestige cuvées must be made with grapes from the best plots. Also, the aging time before disgorgement (when dosing and placing the final cork and muselet) is generally much longer than that granted to basic non-vintage standard wines (15 months) or even vintage wines (36 months). This type of cuvée is an important summation for all the Champagne houses, reflecting their individual excellence, style and personality.
Indeed, it is through these prestigious cuvées that the Champagne houses express their identity in the most detail and depth. Moët & Chandon does this with Dom Pérignon; Louis Roederer with Cristal Vintage; Veuve Clicquot with La Grande Dame; Taittinger with Comtes de Champagne; Pol Roger with La Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill … and Laurent Perrier with Grand Siècle.
The Grand Siècle cuvée is unique because it is the only one to offer a blend of three great years rather than a single vintage. Is this such a significant difference you may ask? Well yes, because behind this process hides a completely different philosophy and personality that we will now explore.
Since 1959, Laurent Perrier's Cuvée Prestige has only been made 24 times with the aim of producing only the best. "This cuvée is made to recreate the perfect year by assembling the greatest vintages of the century" Edouard Cossy, director of Grand Siècle, explains. It always consists of three great complementary vintages that respectively reflect a dominanacy of freshness, finesse and structure.
The youngest vintage makes up the majority in the blend and Chardonnay is the priority grape variety. The estate's desire is to produce wines to be appreciated now or to be tasted over the next thirty years. This philosophy is based on the fact that a prestige blend aims to achieve a better balance and higher quality than what even an exceptional year has to offer.
Grand Siècle iterations 22 & 24
Since 2019, the Laurent Perrier House has decided to clearly note the "iterations" (or serial numbers) of each new cuvée on the foil of the bottles. This is a good idea because it makes it easier for tasters to draw comparisons and ultimately, to better understand the elements that have formed the signature of this cuvée since its creation. The blend of vintages changes but is there a consistency in the taste of Grand Siècle?
Hence the quest of this Champagne tasting session with the students of the EHL Oenology committee: to define and understand the Grand Siècle personality style.
Iteration 22 is now only available in magnum. Coming in at 55% is the 2004 vintage which gives freshness and tension. At 30% is the historic 2002 vintage bringing structure and the foundations of the blend. Finally, at 15% is the 1999 vintage of great finesse and balance which forms the link between youth and foundation.
The wine has been aged for 15 years on its lees (the dead yeast cells) before being ready for the market, which gives it complexity and an aromatic richness as well as an exceptional bubble finesse. The cuvée is classified “Brut” with a dosage (sugar) of 7 grams per liter.
Gold in color and medium in intensity, its appearance charms at first glance and encourages tasting. On the nose, the fruit is deep but still remains restrained. A subtle minerality gives it great elegance. On the palate, the bubbles offer a rich and creamy texture. "It is the creamiest Champagne I have ever tasted," commented a student from the EHL Oenology Committee. The concentrated wine offers a dazzling intensity of yellow fruits (the mirabelle plum). Notes of damp stone are reminiscent of chalky Champagne soils. The notes of honey, brioche and walnuts recall the 15 years of aging of the cuvée. Its finish is brilliant and long-lasting. "I recognise this finesse and finish from great prestige cuvées" said another student, "it would be ideal with a full menu from starter to dessert".
Iteration 22 is a wine for reflection: it makes the intellect work and calls for discussion among the tasters.
Here we find 60% of the 2007 vintage, offering freshness and youth for aging. 20% of the 2006 vintage, giving finesse and smoothness, and 20% of the 2004 vintage, bringing structure between tension and generosity, all this with a long finish.
The wine produced in a 75cl bottle is aged for 12 years on its lees before being placed on the market, which amounts to 15 aging years on lees for the magnum iteration 22, (the wine ages more slowly in large formats). Here again, the finesse of the bubble and the aromatic complexity are present. The cuvée is also classified as “Brut” with a dosage (sugar) of 7 grams per liter.
The golden color is slightly more intense. The nose is more expressive and open, offering notes of perfectly ripe yellow fruits. “What generosity and personality!", one of the students exclaimed. In the mouth, a supple and creamy bubble delicately coats the palate. "Seamless".
On the palate, the fruits are generous: quince, mirabelle plum and fresh stone fruits (apricot and peach). Also notes of white flowers, honey and brioche. “This wine seems more masculine to me, but still offers a beautiful balance between freshness, concentration and complexity” notes a student. Its finish is long and finely mineral.
Iteration 24 is a wine of relaxation, offering pleasure and comfort. The ideal partner after a long day.
The Grand Siècle personality
After this session of learning and tasting with the students, we realize together that the signature of Grand Siècle is not only a taste but also and above all a philosophy. A bias which dictates that "together we are stronger" and that three great vintages are better than one. The rarity of cuvées of over 60 years and the very long aging process are also proof of the special care taken in the production of this blend.
These two excellent iterations show us that a personality specific to Grand Siècle does indeed exist and that they share common traits: a generous and delicate bubble, a depth between freshness, finesse and structure, and finally, a beautiful aromatic intensity from the yellow fruits thanks to the majority presence of Chardonnay grape.
Iteration 23, the next Grand Siècle cuvée, is scheduled for the end of this spring: take this opportunity to create your own tasting experience!