Laurent-Perrier Champagne Grand Siècle ‘La Cuvée’ NV
This week my Weekend Wine provides a brief departure from the usual stream of Saumur and St Emilion, as I dig deep into my cellar to pull out this prestige cuvée Champagne. It is a bottle that has been buried there a long time; looking through my cellar records I was reminded that I bought this bottle in August 2003, in Perardel, a popular wine warehouse in Calais, when driving home following a trip to the Loire Valley. In truth I bought three bottles, and I drank the first in 2004, the second a few years later, back in 2009. Even then I felt it was a wine which needed much more time in the bottle. How long though? Maybe five years, I thought to myself. But five seems to have been stretched out to ten. And so here we are.
The Grand Siècle cuvée was created during the 1950s, and launched on September 9th 1960, the 300th anniversary of the marriage of King Louis XIV (1638 – 1715), otherwise known as the Roi Soleil or Sun King. During the reign of Louis XIV France experienced a period of peace and great prosperity, an era of French enlightenment which came to be known as the Grand Siècle. The choice of name for this new cuvée, the brainchild of Bernard de Nonancourt, was therefore an obvious one. The formula on which he settled was a three-vintage blend, starting with a mix of 1955, 1953 and 1952 for the very first release. It is a recipe the house has religiously adhered to ever since, aside from an occasionally-released single-vintage version for the American market.
The balance between Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Grand Siècle is roughly equal, although usually with a slight weighting towards the former of these two varieties. All the fruit is of a grand cru quality, from the vineyards of Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, Avize and Cramant for the white grapes, while the black grapes come from Ambonnay, Bouzy and Tours-sur-Marne. After the second fermentation in bottle (which takes place under cork, unlike the crown cap used at many houses) the wine will typically spend a minimum of seven years sur lattes before it is disgorged and made ready for market.
Sadly it isn’t possible to know with certainly which blend I ended up with after my Calais shopping detour, but given the date of purchase there are several likely candidates. The first is a blend of the 1993, 1990 and 1988 vintages which was still being released as late as 2002, although it is possible that I picked up a couple of bottles from the end of the previous release, a blend of 1990, 1998 and 1985. Most likely, though, is that this is the blend of the 1995, 1993 and 1990 vintages which followed those two releases; certainly this is what Perardel proprietor Jean-Paul Perardel told me when I asked him, and he was probably in the best position to know at the time.
Ten years on from my last bottle, the Champagne Grand Siècle ‘La Cuvée’ from Laurent-Perrier now displays a polished lemon-gold hue in the glass, having taken on a little more colour over the years. accompanied by a very fine bead. Previously rather shy it is nothing short of great now, clearly evolved and interesting, with a very forward aroma of polished cashew nuts, and a dried-fruit concentration, all twisted together with a lightly saline suggestion. There follows a very dry, taut and focused palate, with a tightly defined central spindle of acidity, surrounded by sinewy fruit tinged with nuances of cashew, and carried along by a very fine mousse. It feels long and surprisingly warming in the finish, while it remains fresh and acid-framed through the length. This is really lovely, and it seems so much more attractive with another decade in the bottle. More importantly, this would appear to have plenty more in the tank yet; I would have no qualms about leaving it for another decade, perhaps even two. It is just a shame my budget back in 2003 did not stretch to a fourth bottle. 95/100 (11/3/19)