Popping the Cork: Prestige Moments

Written by
Michael Jappy
February 16, 2017
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There’s something about that little ‘pop’ when you open a bottle of Champagne that suggests a good time is just round the corner!! Champagne corks are popped off to celebrate weddings, births, Christmases and birthdays, and pouring a glass or two of your favourite bubbles never fails to brighten even the most mundane Tuesday evening…

Most Champagne that is splished and splashed into our glasses these days tends to be the classic Non-vintage expression. Iconic names like Veuve ClicquotMoët & ChandonPol RogerLouis Roederer and Perrier-Jouët utilise the palates of master blenders, or more accurately chef de caves, to skilfully craft a wine that year in, year out is pretty much effectively the same. Hence, Non-Vintage blends are what have come to define each particular producer and their house style.

Not content with titillating our tastebuds with seriously tasty and elegant non-vintage releases, most houses also release some wines that are even more special: wines that are even more alluring. And wines that if you’re lucky enough to drink them, are even more spectacularly delicious than their Non-Vintage cousins. Yes, we’re talking about Prestige Cuvées. The cream of the crop and quite often the most expensive releases that come from deep within the underground caves that the Champagne region is famous for. Prestige Cuvées are more often than not released from extra special vintages, vintages that result in a harvest of grapes of such a high quality that the winemaking teams identify them for an extra special future.

The beginning of the Prestige Cuvée market can be traced back to the end of the 19th century when Louis Roederer crafted a special wine for the Russian Tsar Alexander II. Being particularly fussy about his fizz, Alexander placed numerous demands on the production of the wine, one being that it was released in a clear bottle, which resulted in the special bottling being named ‘Cristal’. To this day, Cristal is still bottled in a clear bottle and is without doubt one of the most successful prestige cuvees on the market. More recently, Cristal found favour within the hip hop scene, with luminaries such as Jay Z regularly ‘sipping on Cristal when they are out at the club’. A bit of a fallout saw Cristal slip down the pecking order with the hip hop cartels, yet its haunting complexity and scarce nature ensures it will remain at the top of the prestige cuvee tree for years to come!

Moët & Chandon are the names behind producing what is quite possibly the world’s most recognisable Prestige Cuvée fizz. The iconic and much-lauded Dom Perignon was first produced in 1920’s and has been a roaring success ever since. The suave and sophisticated James Bond is a confirmed Dom Perignon fan and is regularly seen sipping on classic vintages of ‘Dom’ whilst charming a glamorous damsel in the big screen adaptations of Ian Flemming’s famous novels. Dom is produced in larger volumes than most other prestige cuvees but never fails to excite the room and beguile the palate when a bottle is opened and poured for guests at the dinner table.

Further down the line Pol Roger followed suit, introducing their own Prestige Cuvee in the early 1980s (produced from the 1975 vintage), naming it in honour of former British Prime minister Winston Churchill, whose favourite fizz was that produced by Pol Roger. Perrier-Jouët produce their prestige cuvee ‘Belle Epoque’ in exceptional vintages but it is the bottle itself which quite often grabs people’s attention. The stunning floral painting that adorns the Belle Epoque bottle is reflected in the delicious delicate floral fizz that is trapped within.

Almost every Champagne produces a Prestige Cuvee, but they continue to represent a tiny proportion of the overall champagne market. They are often devilishly expensive, devilishly complex, and don’t show their true colours until they have had many years of bottle age. But at the same time, they are always wonderfully alluring, wonderfully presented and are without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best ways to celebrate any special occasion that may be coming your way!