This series of articles will focus on the top wines from a number of Champagne Houses. In Champagne these top wines are referred to as that house’s “Tête de Cuvée”. The Tête de Cuvée will be made from a strict selection of the best barrels from the best vineyard parcels. The Tête de Cuvée is very limited in production, but it is very important to the Champagne house as it represents the best of the best, the crowning achievement that defines what the house is capable of.
Piper-Heidsieck is one of three of Champagne’s houses that have the Heidsieck name and are producing Champagne today. Each are separate entities, but each owes their origin to a young German man by the name of Florens-Louis Heidsieck.
Florens was a draper by trade and had nothing to do with the Champagne business, not by training or by family. But perhaps young Florens had possessed the best qualification of all to make Champagne: he was in love. Florens met and fell in love with Agathe Pertois and followed her to Reims where she lived. Today Reims is the hub of Champagne, the main centre in one of Champagne’s 5 regions, the Montagne de Reims. Upon arriving in Reims, Florens quickly adapted to the local culture and developed a taste for their sparkling wine. He soon ceased making drapes and began applying his considerable genius to making Champagne, founding the house Hiedseick et Cie. in 1780.
His wines have always held an allure to celebrities. His first celebrity fan was none other than Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France. He presented his first cuvée to the Queen who loved it and became effectively his first brand ambassador. The year was 1785, an auspicious year for Florens-Louis as that was the year Agathe and he were married. Fast forward to today and Piper Heidsieck continues to be the bubbly of celebrities. It is the Champagne served at the Oscars. It was the drink of choice for Marilyn Monroe who claimed she would get up every morning to a glass of Piper Heidsieck.
There are in fact three Champagne houses by the name of Heidsieck presently making wine. The original Heidsieck et Cie is now known as Heidsieck and Co Monopole. It eventually found its way into the hands of Pommery, another well-regarded Grande Marque who keeps Heidsieck and Co. Monopole a separate brand. Floren’s nephew Christian Heidsieck joined Florens in the business. After Florens died, Christian brought in a partner, Henri-Guillaume Piper. In a rather bizarre twist of fate, Henri-Guillaume and Floren’s widow, Agathe fell in love after Floren’s passing and married. This spawned the re-naming of Heidsieck et Cie to Piper-Heidsieck. The final Heidsieck Champagne House is that of Charles Heidsieck. Charles was Floren’s grand-nephew.
Piper-Heidsieck has always been known as a Pinot Noir house. Not surprising, given it location in the Montagne de Reims, solidly Pinot Noir country. That is why it is somewhat surprising that when the house decided to make its Tête de cuvée, Cuvée Rare, it has made the wine a blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. Rare is Piper-Heidsieck’s top of the line Champagne. Living up to is name, it is only made in special vintages. In fact, since the first Rare was made in 1976, only 9 vintages have been made: 1976, 1979, 1988, 1990, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2007 and 2008. The 2007 was the first rosé and the 2008 is also a rosé. The wine is raised in stainless steel tanks and spends 7 years on the lees (the spent yeast cells) and a further 3 years in bottle before being released into the market.
In 2018 Rare split off from Piper-Heidsieck to become its own house. Regis Camus, Piper-Heidsieck’s Chef du Cave since 2002, and 8-time winner of the Sparkling Winemaker of the Year Award has gone with Rare to continue to make that wine. Rare does not see any oak in its elevage but goes through full malolactic fermentation which helps it obtain its texture and creamy mouthfeel.
Rare comes in one of the most beautiful Champagne bottles we have seen. The base of the bottle is wrapped in a gold vine tiara designed by Paris jeweller Arthus Bertrand. What is inside the bottle is just as beautiful as what is on the outside. The mainstream wine reviewers have all bestowed huge scores on this wine. Fine Champagne Magazine named Rare Millésime2002 their Champagne of the decade beating out names like Krug, Dom Perignon, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne and Roederer Crystal. A rare award indeed.
2002 Piper Heidsieck Rare
Huge notes of warm bread combined with citrus zest greet your nose far above the glass. The palate is rich and soft showing notes of apple skin, lemon and hints of mineral. The balance is impeccable. Medium+ body with moderate acidity. The finish has hints of nuts and honey and goes on and on. Very sophisticated.