Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Launches Hors-Série 1971

Piper-Heidsieck Hors Série 1971

© photo provided

Piper-Heidsieck Hors Série 1971

Piper-Heidsieck Hors Série 1971

© photo provided

A new chapter

Piper-Heidsieck’s cellar master Émilien Boutillat was in London to launch the “first opus of the new collection” called Hors-Série. “We want to be audacious,” Boutillat said. “It is not only a new cuvée, it is the first page in a new chapter of Piper-Heidsieck. The idea is to do something outside the box – of what we do and what Champagne does usually. I got a carte blanche to do whatever I want to express the bold side of Piper and the audacity of the brand.”

While the first in the new series is the release of just 2,021 bottles of a historic vintage wine from 1971 – the series will be varied. Boutillat said: “We may present in the future some older vintages but Hors-Série is not an oenothèque collection, further releaes might be other wines that highlight a particular terroir or a bold winemaking choice, so we are looking at the past and to the future of Champagne.”

Finding treasure

For this first release, a stash of the 1971 vintage that had been held back in the house from its original release as Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Florens Louis Vintage 1971 has been disgorged. Boutillat said that “the idea was to show the legacy of winemakers before me and the excellence through the years”. The 1971 wine had been made by cellar master Claude Demière – 92 years old now – and the predecessor of both Daniel Thibault and Régis Camus. “Both Régis and Daniel decided to keep the bottles all these years,” Boutillat said. “When I tasted them with my team in February 2020, it was a shock because of the complexity and freshness, because of the age of this Champagne.”

A difficult year

1971 was a difficult year, with a cold winter and spring, plagued by late frosts in April. It was cold until a heatwave hit in June and July. This, in turn, brought both thunder and hailstorms. “Between frost and hail, we lost a lot of grapes and yields were low. September brought warm weather and the grapes could ripen. Harvest started on 18 September and the grapes were very concentrated in terms of aromas and acidity.”

The blend

The assemblage of the wine is half Chardonnay, half Pinot Noir, from twelve different villages – there are no exact records – mostly from the Montagne de Reims around Verzy and some Côte des Blancs. At the time, the blend was paying homage to the wine that founder Florens Louis Heidsieck had presented to Queen Marie Antoinette in 1785 – apparently also from twelve villages. Boutillat decided to use a 2019 Chardonnay from the Sézannais as the base for the liqueur de dosage for this historic wine “to give a touch of freshness.” Boutillat chose it because “it was wonderful – in concentration just like the 1971, in terms of acidity and aroma a small bomb – exactly the same philosophy as the 1971”.

The base wines for the 1971 were made in stainless steel and did not undergo malo-lactic fermentation. The bottles were aged for 48 years under crown cork and disgorged in February 2021 with a dosage of 10g/l – which comes across as infinitely balanced in the face of more than 9g/l of tartaric acid.

Time travel

Boutillat was at pains to point out that each bottle is unique – after so much time of evolution there is some variation. Hence two bottles were opened that showed clear differences. The wines also have lost some of their pressure over the years, measuring around 3.5-4 bars of pressure rather than the usual 5-6. This gives them an almost lascivious creaminess. The packaging is a nod to 1970s pop culture but made of solid oak.

The wines cannot be compared to young Champagne – they are golden, mature specimens of immense complexity and astonishing freshness. At a retail price of £400/US$543 per bottle, they are incredible value for such a rarity. Boutillat described the 2,021 bottles released as “a piece of history, time travel, a journey into aromas”.

There is a clear lesson for lovers of fine fizz: that Champagne ages incredibly well.

PIPER-HEIDSIECK HORS-SÉRIE 1971 (FIRST BOTTLE)

Piper-Heidsieck Hors-Série 1971 (second bottle)

Piper-Heidsieck Hors Série 1971

© photo provided