Champagne Joseph Perrier – A Profile

Champagne visitors might overlook this important house founded in 1825, for no other reason than its relative isolation from the rest, situated in Châlons-en-Champagne, some way beyond Reims to the south-east. Until 1998 named Châlons-sur-Marne, this large town, a quarter the size of Reims, was in fact the capital, and still is the administrative capital of Champagne-Ardenne and I wonder if the Prefet feels a little out of it.   It used to be home to some significant champagne houses, in particular Champagne Jacquesson, but the town has no immediate vineyards and now hosts only one important name, Champagne Joseph Perrier, one of the traditional grandes marques and a supplier to Queen Victoria and Edward VII.  The house is now within the Groupe Alain Thiénot but led capably by Jean-Claude Fourmon great grandson of the 1880s owner Paul Pithiot.

When I visited, one surprise was the imposing frontage with a forecourt, brass plate and gates out of kilter with the nondescript dull street, reminiscent of a faded glory perhaps. Surprise number two was the long galleries of imposing cellars dug horizontally into the chalk hillside behind the main building. They were not underground but their depth into the rock made conditions ideal. And there’s a novel mirror system to reflect light into the galleries from above.  The Chef de Cave here is Claude Dervin, increasingly aided by his son Jerôme.

The house owns but 21ha of vineyards, 25% of its needs, making somewhat over one million bottles per annum. Most of their holdings and supply contracts are in Cumieres, Damery, Hautvillers and Verneuil, quite some diametric step in the Marne Valley west of Epernay.  Grapes are bought in too from the Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims.  But I wonder if the intriguing secret weapon here is the very special Chardonnay they use from the vineyard enclave some 35 kilometres away in Vitry-le-Francois – lean, high acid and healthy grapes from an exposed location in Bassuet. Claude Dervin explained that the young vines in particular here produce a piercingly mineral but also melony and assertive Chardonnay that gives the ripe richness of their cuvées an often ratcheted bright purchase and elegance in the mouth.  The lack of any oak used here also keeps the style fresh given the overall full ripeness of the fruit used from the Marne.

The style is successful if not quite the current champagne fashion amongst afficionados for lean and mineral very dry styles. Although there’s a fine balance and the interesting melony component often from Vitry fruit, the impression is always slightly opulent, ripe and rich and a touch old school. They taste reassuring and a little luxurious though and are none the worse for that.  I recommend them.

The Wines

Cuvée Royale Brut NV The house main production and entry level wine. The last example I tasted was in Châlons, 04/14, base 2010 with 25% 09 and 08.  At least 3 years on lees. Always about one third of the three main varieties.  There was a very fresh attack and then exotic pineapple and melon notes, ripe and rich but zipped up and neat too.  6g/L
Blanc de Blancs Brut NV Tasted 04/14 in Châlons.  Chardonnay from Cote des Blancs, Vitry and Cumières. Fresh flowers and hazlenutes, a round and ripe version but beautifully balanced and all creamy nougat too. Good. Elegant softly-breaking texture.
Blanc de Blancs Brut 02 Tasted 02/12 at a Jancis Robinson.com event  Lovely focus and intensity, real identity, cream and light crunch.  Touch of aldehyde whisky barrel on palate, complexity developing from great vintage. The star for me of a big range of the champagnes on that occasion, which included some top names.
Esprit de Victoria 2006 Blanc de Blancs Tasted in Châlons o4/14  A slight note of reduction; would have been better left for some minutes or decanted. But a pleasing saline and mineral bite as well as a long roundness I was told was from the Cumières fruit.
Cuvée Josephine ’95 12/12  New Year’s Eve.  Plenty of lively texture still but some burnt treacly sugar, oxidised notes and a bit dusty overall.  Quite big boned still and classy texture.  A case of age before beauty perhaps. Quite long. This has waited just a bit too long or could have been stored better.  I need a wider experience with this Cuvée, usually 60CH and 40PN, which is reported in some vintages by others as excellent.
Champagne Joseph Perrier
69 Ave de Paris,
Chalons-en-Champagne
www.josephperrier.com
0033 3 26 68 29 51
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