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The success of champagne at the beginning of the twentieth century contrasted sharply with the problems of the region that assailed its production and those who worked there . The Belle Epoque was its golden age. It was a period of unbridled pleasure for the wealthy classes and a phenomenon occurred whereby champagne became synonymous with the celebrations that always involved flutes and coupes and which were what Comtesse de Pange called the last balls before the storm.
Champagne had managed to make itself indispensable. Youth rejoiced in it: it was perfect for enlivening spirits that had become dulled by an over abundance of pleasures; in his foreword to Emile Richardin's L'Art du bien manger (The Art of Eating Well) Lucien Tendret gives his advice to hosts, for those who sparkle with youth and gaiety, pour some good quality champagne, some iced Piper-Heidsieck or Roederer Cristal. It was the confidant of the ladies and the appointed companion of those men for whom opening a bottle of champagne was a virtue, provided that it was accomplished with grace (243). Turkish baths and hammam were fashionable and champagne was regularly served to men as part of the post bath relaxation ritual. Armand Lanoux specifies that certain foods and wines are rich and we praise them for their aphrodisiac properties. A scarlet woman, he continues, puts her glove in her flute of champagne. She laughs, "I feel a bit tipsy!" .
Grand society evenings multiplied and bottles of champagne were poured by their hundreds, or even by their thousands at, to list just a few of these Parisian events, Boni de Castellane's parties, who was the cousin of the founder of the champagne house of the same name, Princess Jacques de Broglie's Gem Ball, the Duchess of Gramont's Second Empire Ball, and the Comtesse de Chabrillan and the Comtesse de Clermont-Tonnerre's remarkable Persian parties. The couturier Paul Poiret recounts that one evening he found himself alone at a table with Isadora Duncan, the famous dancer, who would often perform without her flowing robes, and this worshipper of Bacchus had drawn him to her demanding champagne and kisses. The festivities were equally numerous in Dinard, La Baule, Biarritz, and above all on the Côte d'Azur where as an example amongst hundreds, Elisseïef, a joyous boyard (former member of the Russian aristocracy), a son and grandson of the kings of the food trade during the rule of the tsars, and an ogre when it came to festivities, had set up, in the centre of the table, a swan carved out of ice, heaped with a mountain of caviar, and swimming on a lake of champagne.
High society was even more cosmopolitan than in the previous century and for them champagne flowed in the spa towns of Germany, in the hunting lodges of Scotland and Slovakia, in Budapest and in Venice where Gabriel-Louis Pringué, at a dinner at which were present, amongst others Paul Bourget and Henri de Régnier, sat next to the pretty blonde Princess Ruspoli who, he wrote, loved champagne, adding that when she drank it , her witty eloquence became stunning . The tango appeared in France in around 1910 and, despite its South-American origins, was often accompanied by champagne; in a picture advertising Tea-Tangos at the Volney Restaurant, which appeared in the Vie Parisienne of the 20 December 1913, the only glasses visible on the tables are champagne coupes.
Champagne was still very popular at the races, but was also linked with the beginnings of the automobile. Michelin's famous slogan that its tyres drink up obstacles, was given a humorous twist in a drawing in the Assiette au Beurre that appeared on the 9 December 1904, in which the Michelin man arrives at the finish of a race and knocks over the judge's table in a flood of champagne; the caption reads, drinking up champagne.
The Belle Epoque was the kingdom of demi-monde celebrities such as Emilienne d'Alençon, Cléo de Mérode, and Caroline Otéro. They were feted by the grandest aristocracy, by Dukes and by Kings; the twenty-five year old Prince Ghyka, nephew of Queen Nathalie of Serbia, married Liane de Pougy who was forty-one. The life of these doe-eyed belles was inconceivable without champagne! It was now acceptable for ladies of good society to rub elbows with them in fashionable places where good taste and the finest luxuries were to be found. Everyone could thus dine out together and drink champagne in the restaurants that were à la mode.
Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque is the original Belle Epoque vintage cuvée, first appearing in 1964. Instantly recognisable throughout the world, its bottle is adorned with the graceful spray of Japanese white anemones created for Maison Perrier-Jouët by Art Nouveau master Emile Gallé in 1902.
Working at the vat, plot by plot, the Cellar Master tastes and tests time and again, finally isolating the wines, turning each cuvée into a unique wine that expresses all the characteristic elegance and finesse of the House of Perrier-Jouët. "I throw myself into each composition with one combined effort, like the creative flow of an artist, at that moment when intuition, sensitivity and skill somehow inexplicably come together." Hervé Deschamps.
In 1902, Emile Gallé designed a delicate spray of anemones to be engraved on the prestigious cuvées of Perrier-Jouët Champagnes. The House has remained loyal to this artistic heritage ever since.
For Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque, Séverine Frerson specifically selects Pinot Noir grapes from two crus, Verzy and Mailly-Champagne, in the north of the Montagne de Reims, both characterised by their chalky soils. “Pinot Noir grapes from Mailly-Champagne in particular have an elegance and finesse that harmonise perfectly with our signature Chardonnay from Grand Cru terroirs in the Côte des Blancs,” she says. “They therefore enhance, rather than overwhelm, the delicate floral structure of the wine.” The result is an elegantly structured cuvée with a clear floral dimension, making Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque an outstanding example of the art of blending in the Perrier-Jouët style.
1996 - A rare vintage, consigned for many years to the silence of the Perrier-Jouët cellars, an authentic expression of a tradition handed down since 1811.
The House has perpetuated the art of the vintage ever since 1811. It first selects choice wines from remarkable years and then consigns these rare vintages to the silence of its cellars. While each in turn possesses the particular character of its year, they all illustrate the outstanding quality of the Perrier-Jouët vineyards. 65 hectares, ranked at 99.2% on the scale of grands crus. The vineyards are situated in "Champagne's magic triangle", a perfect location that lends the chardonnays great maturity, with generous aromas of white flowers, similar to the swirl of Japanese anemones on the bottle designed by Emile Gallé in 1902.
A character magnified by the expertise of the House, developed over more than two centuries, by no more than seven Cellar Masters. Each was trained by the previous Master, like craftsmen jealously handing down their manufacturing secrets from father to son, thus ensuring the longevity of the distinctive style that characterises Perrier-Jouët. Hervé Deschamps, the current Cellar Master and guardian of this precious expertise since 1993, spent ten years working alongside his predecessor before mastering the subtleties of the House style and its unique floral tonality. Viewing each cuvée as a unique work of art, Deschamps fashions and sculpts, with a craftsman's attention to detail, each of the wines that make up the composition of his creations, in order to give full expression to the elegance and the finesse of Perrier-Jouët.
1996 was an exceptional year: despite a difficult climate, the must attained a perfect equilibrium of sugar and acidity and evoked a promisingly long-lasting perspective. This has now been confirmed in what is a particularly stunning cuvée. The composition comprised 50% chardonnays, the grands crus of Cramant, Avize et Chouilly; 45% pinot noir from the grands crus of Mailly, Aÿ, Verzy, Cerzenay and Bouzy; and 5% pinot meunier (Dizy, Hautvillers, Venteuil).
A prestigious wooden presentation casket, engraved with the iconic anemone and the vintage serves as the perfect showcase for this rare wine.
Up to this point 1996 has been considered a fantastic vintage which produced classic wines; the best since 1990. A long, dry summer produced grapes of record ripeness with record acidity. Some, including myself, question how the 1996s are aging. The wines are generally characterized by a distinctive rather lemony acidity and very good attack, but some wines now seem terribly austere, while others already seem dangerously short of fruit. None of the subsequent vintages are quite as distinctive as 1996, which in the more successful cases should almost certainly be drunk after the 1999s.