Talk to any chef de cave, as the chief winemaking honcho at a champagne producer is known, and initially he will wax lyrical about the wonders of the latest vintage release. However, after a while and a few glasses of bubbles, the discussion will turn to his true passion, the house's non-vintage, or as the houses prefer us to say these days, multi-vintage, champagne.
This is because at its heart the art of champagne is the art of blending. Even a vintage cuvée is a blend of hundreds of champagnes made from three different varieties of grapes grown by hundreds of different vignerons. In Champagne, the cuvée is the first—and best—2,050 liters of juice extracted from batches of 4,000 kg of grapes.
Then, when you come to the multi-vintage cuvée, the chef has yet another set of variables to factor into the mix—he has at his disposal wines from several different vintages, all of which must be blended into hundreds of thousands of bottles of bubbles that taste the same this year in Hong Kong as they did last year in Helsinki.
This is the challenge facing the chef de cave; to produce a consistent product from an endlessly varying set of organic agricultural ingredients.
Too RestrictivePrestige cuvées, a more recent addition to the champagne pantheon, are just upscale versions of vintage fizz, all be it one that use the best grapes from the best vineyards.
Thus quality in Champagne has become associated with a bottle that shows a specific vintage on its label.
However this is not always the case. At the house of Laurent-Perrier, in 1959, it occurred to Bernard de Nonancourt, the owner, that this system was too restrictive. He realized that by combining three different vintages they could make a prestige cuvée that was at the same time more complex and more consistent. Hence was born Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle ($210), a new category of fizz: a multi-vintage prestige cuvée.
Still with me so far? I hope so because Grand Siècle is a really fine champagne—even if it bears no vintage date. At first it seems as if it is all refinement and delicacy, but give it a little time in the glass, or better, a second glass, and its true subtle strength and power emerges, along with flavors of almonds, hazel nuts and honey, white peaches and toasted bread, and all this a testament to the fine art of blending champagne.
When to Drink: Now and for the next 10 years.
Breathing/Decanting: Not necessary.
Grapes: 50% chardonnay, 50% pinot noir.
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Nick Passmore: Wine of the Week
Laurent-Perrier's Grand Blend
Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to Forbes.com, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town & Country, the Robb Report, Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently artisanal editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes a twice monthly column to BusinessWeek.com. He is also a judge at the annual Critics’ Challenge wine competition.