Piper Heidsieck, one of the many grandes marques (or great brands) from Champagne, hosted a dinner the other night to honor the 20th anniversary of their Chef de Cave (or chief winemaker) Régis Camus.
In his honor they poured all the past vintages of their Cuvée Rare Champagne. In each year the house uses 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir from their best vineyards. This is gorgeous tête de cuvee (or top blend) has only been produced in eight vintages – the most recent being the 2002.
The Piper Heidsieck Cuvée Rare 2002 was served during the reception. The current vintage shows itself as young and vibrant, rich and full bodied with tea, honey and spice notes. It’s drinking very well now, but can age for many more years.
The Piper Heidsieck Cuvée Rare 1999, made from grapes grown in an “opulent” year (otherwise known as hot and dry), was citrusy and spicy with floral notes and a full body. It is lovely now, though it shows as more mature than the 2002. It was paired with an emulsion of celery root with a crisp oyster, caviar and chervil. The saltiness of the caviar really brought out the dimensions of the wine.
The Piper Heidsieck Cuvée Rare 1998 was poured en magnum. This was my favorite of all. It was leaner and more elegant than the previous two wines. It had a lovely precision and notes of cedar, sandlewood, orange blossom and dried apricot; it was very mineral and pure. It seems like a wine that could live forever. Interestingly enough, the pairing of pan-seared Rhode Island sea scallops, apple puree, smoked bacon, pickled apple and watercress worked better with the 1999. I felt the sweetness of the apple puree (apple sauce) overwhelmed the elegance and minerality of the 1998.
The Piper Heidsieck Cuvée Rare 1990 is another lush wine. You’ll find dried fruits and dried flowers, beeswax and some soft cooking spices. This wine paired beautifully with Swiss chard ravioli, heirloom squash, winter truffle, egg and Parmesan.
The Piper Heidsieck Cuvée Rare 1988 has great fruit, it’s spicy and among the more elegant vintages. There are notes of Armagnac and smoke. Hazelnut, white peach, pineapple and sandlewood round it out. It paired beautifully with Montauk tilefish prepared with olives, potatoes, fennel, buttermilk, onion puree and citrus.
The Piper Heidsieck Cuvée Rare 1985 was the first wine to show any signs of oxidation. It presented itself with an amber color and notes of hazelnut. It hsd very concentrated notes of dried fruit, caramel, bergamot and soft spices. The nuttiness and weight of the wine made it a great pairing with grilled squab over truffle risotto, caramelized grapes and tarragon.
The final two vintages of the evening, the 1979 and 1976, were showing their maturity, but were not over the hill. Since 1979 was considered a mythical vintage in Champagne, the mousse was surprisingly aggressive – more so than many of the younger vintages. The caramelized and hazelnut notes that are indicative of a wine that has substantial bottle age are surrounded by notes of potpourri, violets, sage, and lilacs. There are also coffee and vanilla notes. This is still a powerful wine that was awesome with kunik (a triple-crème goat and cow milk cheese), rhubarb and a sweet flax-seed tuille.
The last wine in this amazing line up was the first Piper Heidsieck Cuvée Rare ever produced, 1976. This vintage definitely takes a back seat to the 1979. It has similar flavors but is much shorter on the palate. I enjoyed this with small bites of carrot cake. Chef de Cave Régis Camus mentioned that there are only a few dozen bottles of this in the Piper Heidsieck library and that all the corks broke. The wines have been re-corked and are still in good shape.
Most of these vintage are still available at retail stores in the New York area.