Mon 2 Jan 2012
As is the case with the history of the Martini, the progress of Champagne has been from sweet to dry, which is why a Champagne termed Extra Sec (“extra dry”) is actually sweeter, technically, than Brut (“raw”). Imbibers of bubbly in the 19th Century assumed that Champagne would be sweet, but gradually tastes changed — dare one say, became more sophisticated — the amount of sugar in the dosage (remember, the dosage helps start the second fermentation in the bottle) was reduced, and Champagne became drier. Even Brut Champagne can have a quality of sweetness, though it’s usually masked by acidity and the essential element of minerality. The rarely encountered actually sweet Champagne is called Doux. A moderately sweet Champagne is called, paradoxically, Demi-Sec, “half-dry,” and is typically served as a compliment to uncomplicated desserts, like a plain apple tart.
I don’t drink or even taste many Demi-Sec Champagnes, but I was delighted by the Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-Sec, non-vintage. “Sublime” is pure marketing, of course; I would call it Cuvée Really Damned Pretty.
Heidsieck & Co Monopole, Charles Heidsieck and Piper-Heidsieck all trace their origins to Florens-Louis Heidsieck, who established the company in 1785. I won’t delve into the multi-tangled history of the three houses and how they became separated by reasons of birth and marriage and other familial and non-familial relationships. It’s sufficient to say that Charles Heidsieck and Piper-Heidsieck are owned by Remy-Cointreau, while Heidsieck & Co. Monopole is owned by Vranken Pommery.
The Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-Sec, a blend of 55 percent pinot noir, 30 percent pinot meunier and 15 percent chardonnay, offers a radiant pale gold-straw color and a flourish of frothy blond bubbles, the sort of bubbles that make great posters and photographs; one imagines Jeanne Avril and Toulouse-Lautrec with glasses giddily held aloft, while gas-lamps flare and the orchestra stirs in overture. At first, this feels dry, elegant and high-toned, even a touch austere; the sense of sweetness (or half-sweetness) develops after a few moments as the red currant, peach and pear flavors, with a hint of marzipan, become soft and ripe and macerated, and the texture, while rightly organized around crisp acidity and limestone, turns lush and almost viscous. I don’t mean that this is some kissy-face pushover of a date; no, the Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-Sec is well-knit, meticulously balanced and precisely integrated, which is to say, that the elegance holds true from start to finish. Come on, we know that Americans, like magpies, adore bright, shiny things; what’s not to adore about this? 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $42, though as is usually the case, prices vary widely throughout the country.
Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.