The easiest way to “explain” cuvée de prestige champagnes is to give a few examples and let the best of the best in champagnes speak for themselves.
Arguably the most famous examples of cuvée de prestige champagnes are Dom Perignon and Cristal.
As well as being uber-brands, these are the prestige champagnes. The top-end. The crème de la crème of champagnes.
Luxury in a bottle
While most people recognise the names Dom Perignon and Cristal, people don’t always realise what the brands represent. Or where these champs sit in the champagne pecking order.
Cuvée de prestige champagnes are the top shelf champagnes for their house. They are the next step up from vintage champagne and houses will produce a cuvee de prestige champagne even more selectively fewer years than vintage.
Prestige champagnes are only made in exceptional years with exceptional harvests. The wines are made from only the very, very, very best grapes from the very best villages, usually from grand cru villages but that is becoming less of a hard rule now.
They are aged for at least eight years, often for 10 years or longer. Charles Heidsieck’s Blanc des Milleniares is aged 17 years in the cellar!!!!
History of cuvée de prestige champagnes
Popular culture has turned many of these wines into cultural phenomenons, with a purchase price to reflect the wines’ majesty and rarity.
For these champagnes, their exquisite taste experience is generally matched by their remarkable stories, and many are cloaked in history and homage to the pioneers of the houses and champagne.
The bottles alone are often stunning works of art and many houses form creative collaborations with artists and designers to release sought-after collector’s editions (see – champagne is art!) taking these wines to another level of enjoyment and another sensory dimension.
Homework assignment #Champagneschool
So let’s have a quick look at some cuvée de prestige wines which you can research for your homework assignments!
Louis Roederer was the first house to make a prestige champagne with its Cristal.
Initially created in 1876 for Tsar Alexander II, the bottles had a rare (and infamous) flat base. The Tsar was rather paranoid and feared a threat to his life could be concealed in a punt of the bottles so he demanded a re-design. The original bottles for the Tsar were also from real crystal! Not surprisingly, modesty prevailed and Cristal is now sold in clear glass bottles. The bottles are wrapped in gold foil to protect the delicate wine from light.
The legend of Dom Perignon…
And while Roederer got in early with the Russian royals, the first commercial release of Cristal (a 1945 vintage) wasn’t released until 1950. Moet and Chandon in the meantime became the first house to release a commercially available cuvée de prestige, with Dom Perignon 1921, released in the 1930s.
Dom Perignon was so named in homage to the famous Benedictine Monk who is widely credited as inventing champagne. While Dom Perignon definitely contributed to improving champagne making, particularly secondary fermentation and making the bottles more robust to withstand the pressure, he didn’t invent champagne or sparkling wine. Read more here in my blog post – Did Dom Pérignon Invented Champagne? Not Quite Fake News, But Definitely An Alternative Fact About Champagne.
La Grande Dame…
Veuve Cliquot’s La Grande Dame, another celebrated cuvée de prestige, was created in 1972 for the house’s bicentenary. The name is a tribute to another champagne legend, Madame Clicquot who was known as ‘La Grande Dame de la Champagne’. A pioneer in Champagne, La Grande Dame invented the art of riddling and created the first ever blend of rosé champagne.
There are many more cuvée de prestige champagnes including Perrier-Jouët’s Belle Epoque, Pol Roger’s Winston Churchill, Bollinger’s R.D., Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne, and Billecart’s Cuvee Nicolas Francois Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon (rosé) to name just a few!
My tip… if you get the chance to enjoy any (or many) cuvée de prestiges, keep the bottles! I collect the bottles and the corks/caps from every unique champagne I try. Many of the bottles are collectors items but even those that are not, I keep to celebrate the champs I’ve been able to enjoy!
Make sure you post a pic and tag @bubbleandflute #Champagneschool to let me know you’re doing your homework and what you think!
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