Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle “La Cuvée” NV
This week a prestige cuvée from Laurent-Perrier, a house which originated with the Laurent family in 1812. Originally coopers, they moved into an abandoned abbey in Tours-sur-Marne and gave up barrel manufacture in favour of making and selling Champagne. The Perriers arrived later that century, when Eugène Laurent married Mathilde Émile Perrier, and the firm was renamed Veuve Laurent-Perrier upon Eugène’s death. After the widow Perrier died without issue, the firm was purchased by Marie-Louise de Nonancourt. It was her son, Bernard, who has been responsible for Laurent-Perrier’s success since taking control in 1949, and it was also he who oversaw the creation of the firm’s prestige cuvée, Grand Siècle.
The wine is named for the Grand Siècle, the era of Louis XIV, the Sun King, a period of great prosperity for France. Working with winemaker Edouard Leclerc (who was replaced on his retirement by Alain Terrier in 1981) the two devised a three-vintage blend perhaps best described as ‘multi-vintage’. The very concept of a prestige cuvée was unusual at this time; Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne was still in development, and Pol Roger’s Winston Churchill and Perrier-Jouët’s Belle Epoque were not yet even conceived, but creating a three-vintage blend was even more out of the ordinary. The wine was released in 1960, the 300th anniversary of Louis XIV’s marriage, with a blend of the 1955, 1953 and 1952 vintages. Today it remains a three-way blend, although the examination of a bottle will not readily reveal what that blend is. I have always thought this to be the Grand Siècle’s greatest flaw, as it makes it close to impossible for committed Champagne fans to compare blends, and to see how different releases fare over time. Indeed, I remain less than certain as to the identity of this cuvée, which I purchased in 2003. Nevertheless a little research (and some help from the vendor) suggested that it was likely to be the latest release at that time, which was a blend of the 1995, 1993 and 1990 vintages. The blend is approximately half Chardonnay and half Pinot Noir, with the former usually dominating, typically accounting for 52-58%.
So onto my impression of this wine, Laurent-Perrier’s non-vintage (there have been some single-vintage releases, aimed specifically at the American market) Grand Siècle “La Cuvée”; there was quite a pop when the cork was removed, so the wine still has plenty of life I think. I poured it with uncustomary difficulty as the bottle has a long, tapered neck, modelled on a 18th Century hand-blown design, and as beautiful as it is it makes smooth pouring more troublesome that usual, especially into narrow flutes. Once in the glass it displays a mid-golden hue, and a plentiful bead of small-moderate sized bubbles. The nose is rich, with aromas of roasted fruits, overlaid with subtle caramel and toffee. It shows some evolution compared to my previous tasting five years ago when, just released, it was really very tight. The palate is rich and creamy, evolving nicely, with a fresh undercurrent of acidity and a bright, prickly mousse. It has a broad midpalate, mouth-filling, firm and flavoursome rather than ethereal. In fact although delicious it has a slightly meaty feel, but a well structured and bright finish. Whereas it has clearly moved on from its position five years ago, I am certain that this wine has much more potential yet, and I think a look in another five years might be warranted. And, sadly, looking at the price of current releases, that might just be my last look at Grand Siècle. 17.5+/20 (5/1/09)