Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Piper-Heidsieck's Emilien Boutillat honors tradition while seeking innovation

The historic Champagne house Piper-Heidsieck has engaged a new cellarmaster, Emilien Boutillat.  The charming Frenchman, who grew up in a winemaking family, has already made wine on four continents.

I met Emilien at a media dinner in Manhattan and the first thing one notices is his youth - at only 32 he may seem a surprising choice for cellarmaster of such a revered house.  Yet, when Emilien explains his approach, it's clear he has great respect for the traditions of Piper-Heidsieck that have made it so renowned.

He explained that he isn't intent on changing the wine much, but he stated that he "wants to focus on small details to make this wine even better."  He is encouraging sustainable farming practices in the vineyards that supply grapes to the house, and he's working with the growers on choosing when to pick the grapes. 

Dinner began with the Piper Heidsieck Brut, which Emilien explained is 80 percent of their production.  For this wine, Emilien said he wants "the nose to be complex, but not complicated." The brut had medium high acidity; fine, quick moving bubbles; crisp lemon on the attack; and a midpalate of pear.

We then moved on to the rose, Piper-Heidsieck Rose Sauvage.  Emilien described this wine, which is predominately Pinot Noir, as "a basket of fruit on the nose." This very dark rose, which boasted  aromas and flavors of raspberries and cranberries and crisp acidity, was meant to pair with food.

The third wine was a special vintage Champagne, the just-released Piper-Heidsieck Brut 2012.  The cuvee is 52 percent Pinot Noir and 48 percent Chardonnay.  The Champagne was rich, the flavor mouth-filling. On the palate there was a heady  mix of yellow fruit, gingerbread, butter, and a citrus lift on the finish.  This very special vintage wine can age and develop even further to gain greater complexity.

The fourth wine showcased the tradition of off-dry Champagnes, the Piper-Heidsieck Sublime, a demi-sec.  Emilien told me that it would work wonderfully with my foie gras (he was right!) and that it also pairs very well with spicy Asian cuisine.  With red fruit aromas and flavors - pureed raspberries with vanilla notes - the wine offered a balance of freshness and sweetness.

Across the various blends, Emilien stated that the style of the house is "elegance and finesse," noting that it's "all about the fruit."

After tasting these current Piper-Heidsieck releases and speaking with Emilien, I believe the prestigious Champagne house is in very capable hands.

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