Jean-Claude Fourmon – president of the fourth-generation family-owned Joseph Perrier in Châlons-en-Champagne – doesn’t seem at all deterred by the fact that, in the U.S., his brand is probably best known as “that other Perrier” that not quite as many people have tasted.
He’s quick with amusing witticisms, bordering on platitudes if not for his fantastic delivery; things like, “a day without Champagne is very sad” (truer words were never spoken, I suppose), “we all know that Prosecco is a poison” (definitely not true, but funny), “grapes, blend, and dosage make all the difference, the rest is fantasy” (refreshingly honest), and “‘Can I have another glass?’ That is how I measure success!” (not a bad watermark, methinks).
Now, if he were less affable, he might be a bit more worried about the fact that, since they export seventy-five percent of their production, having a lower profile in one of the world’s largest wine markets isn’t ideal. But Fourmon seems to think that history will prevail.
After all, Joseph Perrier has the Champagne traditions that wine geeks love: along with multi-generational family ownership, there’s multi-generational grape-growing supply agreements, multi-generational cellarmasters, equipment that’s reminiscent of a working museum, and a history that puts the brand in lock-step with the better-known Champagne houses (in the early twentieth century, they shared the region’s first paper label with those other brands – only the brand names were changed on each at the time).
Then there are the tidbits that can only come from Champagne: the brand was one of Queen Victoria’s faves, and was poured on the inaugural flight of the Concorde. To top it off, Joseph Perrier have one of the more impressive caves of Champagne, they kind that you imagine when you dream of visiting the area: the galleries are Gallo-Roman, cut ten feet high for stability, employ an ingenious system for reflecting ambient sunlight, and still bear the tool marks of the Gauls who carved the original spaces.
In other words, if the wines are decent, then wine geeks ought to be eating this stuff up in mouth-filling handfuls.
Well, gobble up, friends, because the bubbly is more than decent.
Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut (Champagne)
“Champagne should be easy to drink,” Fourmon mused when I visited, and if any of his wines has that marching order, it’s this crowd-pleasing Brut. Three years on the lees, split almost evenly between Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and a reserve wine that can stem up to twenty vintages. Yeasty but delicate, the combo of pear, apple, stone, and flowers is immediately appealing. The finish is lemony and long, contrasting nicely with that toasty entry. Balanced like a funambulist.
Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut Blanc de Blancs (Champagne)
15% reserve wine, which the 100% Chardonnay allows to come through more in a more prevalent manner, with toast and bruised apple fruits accompanying the white flower arrangement on the nose. Lots of finesse here, and a nice tension between creaminess and fresh-apple crispness on the palate. The finish is long, linear, and chalky. The kind of bubbly that’s almost too easy to gulp down.
2005 Joseph Perrier Cuvée Speciale Rosé Brut (Châlons-en-Champagne)
Half Chardonnay, almost half Pinot Noir, and a smattering of Pinot Meunier. Tart red berry fruits that start to get juicier and juicier as it goes down… There’s awesome minerality action and a fantastic focus to this rosé, that all eventually leads to earthy, savory notes. This had maybe my favorite mousse of the tasting lineup, not too delicate, not too aggressive, and all class.
2004 Joseph Perrier Cuvée Josephine (Châlons-en-Champagne)
I got the impression that Fourmon is absolutely giddy over this wine; one of the stars of their collection, for sure. Speaking of the image of the wine’s namesake on the capsule, he had this to say: “she’s much nicer than the widow Clicquot!” (I’ll leave it to you to read into that what you will). An almost equal blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, sourced entirely from Premier and Grand Cru vineyards. For an “ok” vintage, JP has crafted a stunner of a bubbly here. There’s a lot going on with the nose on this beauty, but I found its spiciness to be the most intriguing characteristic. Texturally, this is the kind of sparkler that fascinates; lithe, and linear, but not lacking in gravitas, either. The word “wow” appeared a few times in my tasting notes; there’s nary a crack in this fine porcelain display.
2008 Joseph Perrier Cuvée Blanc de Noir (Champagne)
Speaking of crafting this wine, Fourmon explained that “you have to take care of it, as milk on the fire.” I’m still not sure exactly what was meant by that, but if attention to detail is the virtue, this kind of wine is the payoff for adhering to it. This is a new, zero-dosage, micro-cuvée-style single-vineyard release that’s floral, with raspberry and strawberry nuances that are followed by clay. It’s a very interesting, geeky Champagne nose. The palate is sharp and linear, structured and earthy, finishing with tart red fruit as if spread on toast.
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