How do you imagine a 50-year-old wine would smell and taste? I’m sure dried fruits, dried herbs, mushrooms and earthy are a few ideas that come to mind. But not for this 50-year-old Piper-Heidsieck HORS-SÉRIE 1971.
Vintage champagne, or sparkling wine made in the traditional method (where the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle), has two key dates. The first is the vintage when the grapes were picked. The second is the disgorgement date, when the dead yeast cells, called lees, are removed from the bottle. The time the lees spend in the bottle is crucial to developing the signature toasty and biscuity aromas of champagne, but it also keeps the wine fresh. A newly disgorged older champagne will taste fresher than a young champagne that has been disgorged a few years ago.
HORS-SÉRIE 1971 was harvested in 1971, but it was only disgorged in February 2021. The wine has lovely aromas of white flowers, yellow fruits and distinctive honey notes, along with toast and brioche. The palate is fresh and has a lingering finish.
We did a tasting via Zoom with Piper-Heidsieck chief winemaker Émilen Boutillat. He did not disagree with our description, but I felt he did not agree either, especially regarding the honey aroma. After some discussion, we were treated to a second bottle of the wine. The second bottle had obvious notes of citrus and dried herbs and an equally vibrant but leaner palate. The pronounced honey aroma in the first bottle was not noticeable at all in the second bottle. If we were not told, we would have thought we were tasting two different wines.
Actually, the differences are not difficult to explain. Unlike still wine that is aged in big vessels, bottled when it is ready to ensure the consistency of each bottle, champagne is aged in its own bottle, and each bottle evolves in its own way. HORS-SÉRIE 1971 has spent 50 years in the bottle before disgorgement, so it’s not surprising that each bottle tastes so different. And it’s also no wonder why Boutillat did not quite agree with our tasting notes on the first bottle.
HORS-SÉRIE is a new collection of Piper-Heidsieck champagne developed by Boutillat to convey the Piper-Heidsieck heritage and, at the same time, highlight the house’s creativity and audacity. It is a limited collection that Boutillat will use for reinterpreting former vintages and creating unexpected cuvées.
This 1971 wine is the first wine in this collection that is connected to the past and present. Considered to be Piper-Heidsieck’s masterpiece, the wine was blended by then chief winemaker Claude Demière in March 1972 and disgorged in February this year by Boutillat, the youngest chief winemaker of the house and also Sparkling Winemaker of the Year 2021, as named by the International Wine Challenge. Only 2,021 bottles have been produced. Apparently, there is still some of the 1971 vintage left, but Boutillat said that he will leave the wine to the next generation of winemakers.
The label and packaging of HORS-SÉRIE 1971 have a neo-pop 70s design that denote the bold and youthfulness of the wine. Piper-Heidsieck has even composed a HORS-SÉRIE 1971 playlist that’s available on Spotify.
Hong Kong has only been allocated 39 bottles of this wine. In case you’re too late to get your hands on a bottle, you can still enjoy other Piper-Heidsieck bubbly, available at wine’n’things, while comforting yourself with the 70s music brought to you by HORS-SÉRIE 1971.
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