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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.
A white floral bouquet, for a sensation of airy and silky freshness, perfect with seafood flavours or the fondant harmony of foie gras.
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. The same tradition gave rise to Beauting: a vision of gastronomy which embraces Beauty and Good Food, turning each dish into a work of art, in perfect harmony with each cuvée. A unique sensory experience and a feast for the eye and the palate alike.
The silky freshness of the Belle Epoque 2004 is a perfect match for the salty flavour of sole, coupled with the sweetness of melt-in-the-mouth mango and garden peas, scented with the freshness of lemongrass.
Or just as perfectly with the fondant harmony of foie gras, enhanced with the unexpected flavours of tonka beans, diced pineapple or the freshness of little golden raisins or blanched spinach leaves.
A great example of how large yields do not necessarily mean poor quality in Champagne. As a reaction to the previous year's low yields, the vines produced one of the largest crops on record. The growing season proceeded without major difficulties but the bumper crop called for bud thinning. August brought about cooler weather and some rains, increasing the risk of rot. The massive crop, averaging 13,990 kg/ha, was picked from September 18th onwards. The quality was a pleasant surprise; vibrant wines with appropriate intensity, refined charm and refreshing lightness. This vintage impresses me more and more, and I feel tempted to give it the full five stars. It comes with a rare balance of freshness, lightness, yet fine aromatic intensity. Post-release, this vintage has proven to be slow to age, and elegant wines are likely to keep on ageing gracefully. Dom Pérignon and Louis Roederer Cristal both excelled.