It’s not every day that one of the world’s first and most prestigious champagne houses launches a new wine, so PIPER-HEIDSIECK’S new Rare Rosé was hotly anticipated. I was lucky to attend this Rare Rosé experience in Paris – one of those nights that stays with you forever.
My adventure started as soon as I checked in to the MGallery Hotel Molitor. Formerly a swimming pool, it is a design lover’s dream with both an indoor and outdoor pool as well as the original changing cabin doors. It was inaugurated in 1929 by Johnny Weissmuller, star of the original Tarzan film, and the world’s first bikini was presented here in 1946.
A Rolls Royce once owned by Eric Cantona and decorated by American graffiti artist JonOne stands proud in the lobby. It’s a nod to the period in the 1980s when the abandoned pool became popular with street artists. There’s also a quirky Clarins vending machine and a huge panoramic roof terrace.
After settling in, we were whisked off to the Albert Kahn Museum and Garden, in the upmarket 16th district of Paris, like our hotel. I was really excited to visit as although I used to live in Paris, I’d never been before. It’s a real hidden gem, inspired by Asian art. Opened in 1986 and spread over 10 acres, it houses the collection of Albert Kahn, a banker and philanthropist who had close links with Asia.
The exotic setting was very appropriate as the new Rare Rosé is also inspired by Asian as well as European heritage. PIPER-HEIDSIECK themselves have an illustrious history, having been founded in 1785 by Florens-Louis Heidsieck, originally a draper in Reims who fell for a girl from Champagne and decided to make a cuvée worthy of a queen. It quickly became popular at court and when the founder died in 1828, his nephew, Christian Heidsieck, and cousin Henri-Guillaume Piper took it over and formed PIPER-HEIDSIECK in 1838. I spoke to Régis Camus, who has won the Sparkling Winemakers Award a record 8 times and his colleague Séverine Frerson-Gomez, to find out more. 2007 was a challenging year for champagne, with a lot of rainfall. However, the conditions were right to make an exceptional rose. Régis has been with PIPER-HEIDSIECK for 23 years and Séverine for 15 and their passion for this venerable champagne house really shines through. They’re a tight knit team of 8 cellar masters who have worked together to create something truly unique.
Back at the Garden Albert Kahn, we enjoyed a chilled glass of PIPER-HEIDSIECK Rare Millésime 2002 by the Japanese pool to start. It’s an elegant cuvée with a striking yellow gold colour, fine bubbles and notes of exotic fruit together with hazelnuts, figs and almonds. It’s created from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes and is a true delight.
We were then treated to a glimpse of the creative process behind creating a new cuvée, with a series of interactive workshops dotted around the garden. Firstly, we met the silversmith Jean-Pierre Cottet-Dubreuil from Richard Orfèvre, whose work echoes the craftsmanship of the magnificent Rare Rosé bottle. Each label is individually made by hand and the result is a superb rose gold foil.
Next we encountered the “nose”, fragrance specialist Patrick Hérault from Secrets de Parfums. He challenged us to identify various floral notes to be found in Rare Rosé champagne. Inhaling the sweet aromas of the perfume bottles, we correctly guessed a few of them with a little prompting. Napoleon cherry, lychee and pomegranate were three of my favourites.
The final stop on our journey of discovery was with the florist Grégory Brousse from Le Fleuriste du Coin and his team’s gorgeous creations.
Each female guest was able to choose their preferred blooms for a customized bouquet and the gentlemen were presented with a floral buttonhole.
We enjoyed some beautifully presented canapés…
Whilst admiring the view of the historic greenhouse and our al fresco dinner table.
To say that this had the wow factor would be something of an understatement. The rose theme was carried through the tablecloths, to the lighting, the flowers and even the rose-gold cutlery.
And now came the moment that we had all been waiting for, as the Rare Rosé 2007 was finally revealed. Damien Lafaurie, President of PIPER-HEIDSIECK, as well as Régis and Séverine, gave fascinating speeches on the thinking behind the new cuvée.
I can honestly say that it’s one of the finest vintage rose champagnes that I’ve ever tasted. The silky smooth bubbles have accents of pomegranate, wild strawberry, Napoleon cherry and Eastern spices. It’s perfectly balanced and has a long finish, lingering on your palate and in your mind. To accompany it in style, we feasted on a clever pink-themed meal dreamt up by Marie Soria, Head Chef of Potel & Chabot. It included gambas and aubergine, lobster with a floral salad and lamb with courgette flowers. It was slightly pink inside and wonderfully tender. The finale was an amazing dessert of wild strawberries with lychee sorbet and crystallized rose petals.
It’s unusual to drink champagne throughout the meal in France as it has traditionally been associated with special occasions. However, as Damien told me, it is becoming more frequent, in line with Anglo Saxon countries. In this case, the subtlety of the champagne lends itself equally well to all the dishes.
After a wonderful evening which transported us to a magical place, it was time to return to our hotel. I caught up with Damien the next day to hear more about PIPER-HEIDSIECK and their plans for the future.
Suze: What is the philosophy behind PIPER-HEIDSIECK and what makes your champagne so unique?
Damien: It’s based on sharing relaxed moments and on celebrating creativity in all its forms. We’re all about accessible excellence, in the sense that our champagne is easy to appreciate even for those with less experience of fine wines.
Suze: what are the main trends in the luxury sector and particularly for champagne?
Damien: consumers are increasingly drinking champagne throughout a meal. Previously, in France, champagne was associated with special occasions or as an aperitif, yet it’s now more readily consumed on a day to day basis. We created a cocktail based on champagne, Sacré Sauvage, for that very reason. Sustainable wine growing is another important trend and it’s at the heart of everything we do.
Suze: there’s a move towards unique experiences in the luxury sector. How does PIPER-HEIDSIECK fit into that?
Damien: It’s true that people are placing less importance on the label and more on the overall experience. With the shift towards digital, we’re able to have a permanent dialogue with our customers. Those clients who have ordered Rare Rosé will be able to take a tour of our cellars in Reims which are normally closed to the public.
Suze: what is next for PIPER-HEIDSIECK?
Damien: we have some exciting projects including a new communications platform and packaging for selected cuvées. We never stop innovating!
Before leaving, I returned to the Molitor’s Art Deco pool for one last look. The hotel has much in common with Rare Rosé – singular, surprising and effortlessly stylish. As for Rare Rosé 2007, it’s a vintage that you really should savour. It will be sold exclusively in the most prestigious restaurants and wine stores and restaurants in Europe, the USA and Asia. Get your hands on it while you can, as it’s bound to be in high demand.