evening with Laurent-Perrier
Connaught Hotel, London
4th October 2004
This was an opportunity, organised by Bibendum, to taste through most of the range of champagnes produced by Laurent Perrier, and then to taste a number of them again over a fine dinner, hosted by the Vicomte de la Giraudière with a menu especially devised and prepared by Angela Hartnett, protegée of Gordon Ramsay, but very much her own woman. Angela launched Menu and The Grill Room at the Connaught in October 2002 and gained her first Michelin Star in January 2004. She also received the ‘Best Newcomer Award’ at the Hotel and Restaurant Awards.
Laurent-Perrier was founded with, as Bernard de la Giraudière pointed out, remarkably poor timing in 1812 and has ever since been based at Tours-sur-Marne near Epernay. Unsurprisingly, the firm was started by the Laurent family which married into the Perrier (no relation to the water) family. As with other champagne houses, women have played an important role in steering Laurent-Perrier: initially in the shape of Mathilde Perrier, or rather Mathilde Laurent, who took over when her husband Eugene Laurent died and under whose direction the firm was known as Veuve Laurent Perrier (compare Veuve Clicquot who have never dropped the 'Veuve'). More recently it was Marie-Louise Lanson de Nonacourt (the sister of Victor and Henri Lanson of the Lanson champagne house) who rescued the company, buying it when Mathilde Laurent died in 1938. Once again, not the best time to take on a champagne house. Today Bernard de Nonancourt is Chairman of the supervisory board at Laurent-Perrier, having taken on the reins in 1949 (after time as a hero in the French resistance and liberating half a million bottles of stolen French wines from Nazi 'storage' in the Bavarian Alps, including several hundred cases of Salon champagne, which he had seen being stolen five years previously).
At the time Bernard de Nonancourt took over, Laurent-Perrier barely made it into the top 100 champagne producers: now it is generally regarded to be somewhere in the top five. Laurent-Perrier concentrate above all on non-vintage blends and the emphasis is well away from vintage champagnes. Even L-P's prestige cuvée, Grand Siècle, is non-vintage, being a blend of wines from three vintages (and from Grand Cru vineyards): indeed Grand Siècle was the first ever multi-vintage prestige cuvée champagne. Chardonnay tends to be the dominant grape variety blended with pinot noir. Pinot Meunier has plays only a small role in L-P's champagnes.
For more information on Laurent-Perrier, the best source is their American website (the UK website contains very little information, and the French website appears to be purely corporate stock-exchangey type stuff).
The format of the evening was a walk-round tasting, then canapés (with champagne naturally), followed by the meal. Prices shown are Bibendum's retail prices (except where noted).
Laurent-Perrier Brut NV £23.99
Typically 45% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier and allegedly exemplifying the house style: "fresh and easy to drink". Wines from more than 55 crus make up the blend - 10 to 20% of which consists of reserve wines, though this can be higher in some years. It is aged three years, then liqueur d'expédition is added and the champagne is matured for a further six months.
A very pale gold in colour and a very fresh nose. Crisp, light and quite elegant. A bit of white pepper on the finish.
Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut NV £33.30
In the 19th century, Laurent-Perrier was renowned for its "Grand vin sans Sucre" but this hadn't been made for decades until L-P's winemaker Alain Terrier decided to revive it in 1981 by creating Ultra Brut, a zero-dosage champagne, aged for four years prior to release. 55% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir.
A pale greenish straw. The nose is very toasty and slightly minerally. In the mouth, the first thing I notice is a markedly prickly mousse. It is very, very dry, and almost a bit green. Tasted on its own, it lacks any character at all and seems utterly pointless. (But see below - it shines when paired with shellfish)
Laurent-Perrier Rosé NV £37.99
Apparently one of the best selling rosé champagnes in the world, this is a rosé de saignée from 100% pinot noir sourced from ten grands crus vineyards.
A very, very pale salmon colour. An interesting nose with plenty of earthy red fruit pinot noir character. Very fruity initially, then fills out to a fully dry wine with some ripe fruit showing through. Very well balanced and wonderfully elegant.
Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle 'La Cuvée', NV £52.99
An assemblage of three vintages (usually the most recent best three) and a blend in more or less equal, but variable proportions of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir: usually slightly more chardonnay than pinot noir. The grapes come from the best plots in twelve grand crus vineyards. After blending, the wine is aged for around five years. In bottle size, the vintages in the current release are 1993, 1995 and 1996.
Mid straw colour. On the nose it seems remarkably old and I wonder if the bottle's entirely ok, but I'm assured it is. Hmm... Concentrated candied peel on the nose, but a bit dried out on the palate. Some pepperiness, especially towards the finish. But really lacking character and completely unimpressive. Which is odd, as a blend like this should, I believe, have more character than the individual vintages that make it up.
Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Alexandra Rosé 1997 £135
OK, the story first: it's named after the eldest daughter of Bernard de Nonancourt, and was kept secret in the cellars until it was revealed as the surprise wedding present at Alexandra's wedding in 1987. It is made in very small quantities and only in the best years (1997 is the fourth bottling). 80% pinot noir and 20% chardonnay from (naturally) the best vineyards. A short maceration period, when the pinot noir and chardonnay grapes are blended together, to extract the colour is followed by between five and ten years ageing.
A mid coppery salmon colour in appearance. The nose seems rather muddy to me, quite stinky and not totally pleasant. Another duff bottle? Some dry cherry fruit. Rather odd and not at all to my taste. Returning later, I find a second bottle has a much purer, cleaner nose, though still with an earthiness to it. Again, soft dry cherry fruit, but this second bottle is much cleaner and fresher tasting. But as with the white Grand Siècle, it's still a touch simple and lacking character. It might be an ultra-prestige wine and very rare, but it really does seem grossly overpriced for what it is in the glass.
Laurent-Perrier Vintage 1996 Not yet released in the UK
Apparently a particularly good year. 45% chardonnay, 55% pinot noir. Aged around six years and released with very light dosage.
Pale to mid straw with a few green tinges. A powerful, fruity nose with crisp citrus fruit and peaches. Very peppery on the palate and a little disjointed, with lots of acid. This has great potential but needs plenty of time to come together.
Laurent-Perrier Vintage 1995 £32.71
55% chardonnay, 45% pinot noir with the same ageing and dosage principles as the 96.
A bright mid yellow straw, turning gold. A lovely creamy nose with fresh citrus and marked honey notes. Rich and full with good complexity. Intense white pepper spice on the finish.
Laurent-Perrier Vintage 1993 en magnum (everywine.co.uk have this in bottles at £37)
Pale green-tinged straw. A complex nose with peaches and candied citrus, and a hint of fermenting peach must. Full, rounded and very together. Lovely structure and body of flavours. Excellent, haunting length. Even better and more complex after a little while when it had warmed up a bit.
Laurent-Perrier Vintage 1988
Mid straw, turning gold, but still some green tinges. Powerful nose - dry bread and blackcurrants with some candied peel. Rather odd on the palate - almost dis-integrated (the hyphen is deliberate there). Powerful flavours too, but it just doesn't seem to be at all together. I went back to this a few times to try different bottles and, while there was undoubtedly some bottle variation, they were all rather unimpressive.
Laurent-Perrier Vintage 1985
Mid gold. A lovely complex nose with some maderisation becoming more evident than in the 88. The nose is dominated by dried apricots and a touch of eau de vie de mirabelle. This is a wine that's completely together. Lots of gorgeous ripe-flavoured fruit, yet very well balanced. Lots of peach and apricot on the palate. Massive length. Very impressive. Excellent ... almost heavenly.
Laurent-Perrier Vintage 1982
Deepish mid gold. A deep, though slightly simple nose: buttery toasty, with some reductive oxidising notes. Gosh! This is full-on, powerful flavours. Ripe stone fruits with more than a little of an old burgundy feel to it. Very together. But definitely really only one for fans of old champagnes: I can appreciate and enjoy this wine, but I don't think it is one that I would drink.
Bernard de la Giraudière later told me that with greater age (i.e. older than the 82), Laurent-Perrier champagnes can take on more of an almost riesling type character - which sounds a bit weird!
A refreshing glass of Laurent-Perrier Brut NV welcomed us into the Grill Room at the Connaught and a waiter circulating with a tray of canapés (deep fried whitebait; olives and nuts; roast baby red peppers, deep fried baby calamari rings and shrimps and a couple of other things too - all very good and nothing fighting with the champagne. Time for whitebait to make a comeback, I think.)
We were introduced to Bernard de la Giraudière, who said a few words about Laurent-Perrier and introduced the wines and Angela Hartnett appeared from below stairs to introduce the menu.
Prawns with Romesco sauce
|Excellent grilled prawns with just
enough Romesco sauce to flavour and accentuate the prawns, without
masking them at all. Romesco sauce is not one of the most wine
friendly of sauces (tomato, garlic, almonds dominate), so combined with
a champagne I'd summed up as "pointless" earlier in the evening, this
was going to be interesting.
A biscuity nose, intensely dry on the palate with lots of crisp white pepper flavours. This is a better bottle than earlier (either that or my palate's been assuaged by the canapés and all the previous champagnes!), with good depth and plenty of flavour, but it is still very very austere. It really comes into its own with the prawns and the romesco sauce, which cut the austerity of the wine. A marvellous, eye-opening combination.
with baby leeks and artichokes and a light chicken jus infused with
white truffle oil
|Beautiful halibut, perfectly cooked.
Nice jus, the white truffle very very subtle. The dish was let
down a little by the artichokes, which could have done with a little
more care in their preparation.
John Cleary from L-P UK told me that the Grand Siècle current release in magnum would be blended from the 1990, 1993 and 1995 vintages. Quite a closed nose, though it's a little too cold. On its own, it's very nice, pleasant and rounded easy drinking. The food brought some lovely primary fruit flavours to the fore, especially on the finish. Overall, much better on the finish and after (when it displayed great length) than on the initial attack (even after it's had time to warm up a little).
veal fillet on braised celery with meat juices flavoured with
|Excellent bit of meat; a fondant
potato and a segment of caramelised apple alongside the gently braised
celery. The caramelised apple infused into the gravy (sorry, jus)
was a rather interesting idea.
The L-P 1990 (55% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir, available en magnum from everywine.co.uk for between £88 and £94 a magnum) had a gorgeous yeasty, peachy nose, though the yeastiness blows off after about ten minutes. Lovely round soft fruit on the palate. Absolutely à point. Lovely soft depths of flavour and interest. Totally integrated. An absolute joy to drink. I think it's possibly a bit more uni-dimensional than the Grand Siècle (though that, I feel, should have more to it than it has), but to my mind, it's none the worse for it.
I thought the Grand Siècle made a marginally better match with the veal, but I think I was in a minority (still - to the only thinly disguised chagrin of the sommelier - it meant another glass of the Grand Siècle for me ... just to be sure and purely in the interests of research, you understand!)
Millefeuille with a strawberry compote
|Four layers of light yet thick puff
pastry, a spot-on vanilla cream, a faultless strawberry compote
(apparently made from the last of the British strawberries) and another
layer of the vanilla cream.
The Alexandra had a very light nose. Nice clean fruit; very dry, but with a certain ripe richness. But very simple and lacking depth. It did nothing for the millefeuille and the millefeuille did nothing for it.
Coffee, infusions and chocolates
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Last updated: 03 November 2006