The Making of Perrier-Jouët Blanc de Blancs NV with Cellar Master Séverine Frerson
Stylistic consistency is what we prize once we have found our favourite Champagne brand. But how to create the same style year after year, despite vintage variation?
“We are alchemists,” Séverine Frerson says when asked about how she recreates that intricate, floral style of Perrier-Jouët Blanc de Blancs NV. As cellar master, it is Frerson’s job to ensure all the non-vintage cuvées have the same style and character, year in year out – notwithstanding vintage variation. She thus has to evaluate all the base wines from the current vintage and then decide which reserve wines from older vintages to blend in order to recreate the signature style of each of the house’s cuvées.
From Still to Sparkling
Before Champagne gets its bubbles through a second fermentation, it is a still wine. This still wine that goes through the second fermentation, is a blend of various wines from various grape varieties and vineyard sites. These still wines are called “base wines” or, vins clairs. Champagne houses ferment wines from different vineyards, village and grape varieties separately in order to have many different base wines that can be used for blending. Each year, some of these base wines are kept in reserve, some of them mature for years in cold cellars in small tanks. Most Champagne houses thus have libraries of reserve wines, all with different characteristics, which can be blended with wines from the current vintage. These reserve wines lend nuance to a blend and allow the winemakers to recreate the style of wine throughout different vintages. In the case of Perrier-Jouët Blanc de Blancs NV, all the base wines are made from Chardonnay.
The Task of Tasting
In spring 2021, when all the Chardonnay wines from the 2020 vintage had finished fermenting, the task of tasting each wine began. Which of the wines would make it into the immediate blend, which would be kept in reserve for later years?
Evaluating the wines is a difficult task for the cellar masters and their teams. At Champagne Perrier-Jouët, Frerson and her team went to work: “I tasted 200 vins clairs from the 2020 vintage,” Frerson explains. “After that we tasted 150 reserve wines. That’s a lot to taste but it is a good time of the year to project the ability and the profile of the wines for ageing.”
How does Frerson decide which wines to keep in reserve? “I use my intuition to project,” she says. “I select wines as reserves that only have the beginnings of floral aromas and complexity, that have tightness and tautness on the palate and the beginnings of texture – they should also have freshness on the finish – these are babies, but they will have a potential for ageing. It’s very important to have a good collection of Chardonnay reserves to continue and perpetuate the style of Perrier-Jouët. 2020 is a very good year to keep Chardonnay for the future.” But 2020 also yielded wines that were perfect for being blended right away: Frerson describes them as having “floral aromas of honeysuckle, white peony and roses; with fruity notes of white peach. On the palate we have a lot of complexity with white pepper, salinity and freshness. It’s important to have the floral and fruity aromas right now – not in the future – but right now.”
Intuition and Alchemy
Then comes the difficult task of recreating the house style with wines from the current vintage and from numerous vintages of reserve wines. “It is intuition and alchemy,” Frersons says. ”And experience, because I have worked in Champagne for 20 years and have memories for each vintage and the ageing potential of wine is in my head.”
The amount of reserve wines in the blend varies each year, because “the first goal is always to perpetuate the style,” Frerson explains. “Sometimes we have 10% of reserve wines, the next year it may be 15%. It depends on the quality and the characteristics of each harvest. There is no exact recipe. For non-vintage wines, the continuity of the style is very important, and I do not want to notice a vintage difference.” Frerson loves this task: “Making wine is my passion, it’s a beautiful moment to create the future cuvées of Perrier-Jouët.”
Perrier-Jouët Blanc de Blancs NV 12%