So how does a Champagne, that has just passed its 50th birthday taste, and feel? Have the years taken their toll with wrinkles and grey hair or has the wine turned the corner toward the century mark with a little spring in its step? Surprisingly it was the latter making the Piper-Heidsieck Hors-Série 1971 an extraordinary wine of which only 2021 bottles are available around the world, with only 96 making it to Australia.
It’s a freak of a wine, probably a 50/50 mix of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that has sat on its yeast lees for almost 50 years, only disgorged in February this year. Also, despite the year being marked by high acid, there was no malolactic fermentation to soften that acidity leaving this wine in its youth probably quite challenging to drink, with time necessary to bring all the pieces together.
The 1971 Champagne vintage started with a cool winter and spring before a warm summer so it was hit with frost and hail leaving only small volumes of concentrated fruit. It was actually a bit of a relief, with the big 1970 vintage leaving Champagne cellars full to the brim with little room available for the new vintage.
The colour is barely believable – a shiny 24 carat gold and no hint of its age. The aromas are of a fresh custard tart and crystallised ginger with some more exotic tropical fruit compote. The fact that the fruit is still intact, and the wine so full of energy, is quite remarkable. Aromas slowly built in the glass over hours with extra layers of buttered toast but throughout the fruit vibrancy remained intact. Liquid silk followed on the palate, thanks to exceptional acid balance, with a textural creaminess before proceeding to a very long and ethereal finish. Why not 100 points – well the concentration could have been a little better but now we are splitting hairs…. If only we all looked so good at 50.