Somewhere deep in the chalky soil beneath the town of Epernay, France’s champagne capital, lies Perrier-Jouët’s legendary Eden Cellar.
Its exact contents remain a secret, but it is known to house the company’s most prestigious old and rare champagnes. Among them is a single, unlabelled bottle of Perrier-Jouët Brut Millésimé from 1874 — a vintage that held the record for being the world’s most expensive champagne for almost 80 years.
The cuvée was blended less than a decade after the end of the American Civil War, by Charles Perrier, son of the company’s founder, using the finest Chardonnay grapes from Cramant — and the bottle hasn’t left the cellars since.
‘As far as I know, no one other than Perrier-Jouët has any of this champagne left’ — Wine & Spirits specialist Tim Triptree MW
‘It has spent almost 150 years in ideal conditions,’ explains Tim Triptree MW, international director of Christie’s Wine and Spirits department. ‘It’s had no movement, and the vault’s darkness, temperature of 11 to 14 degrees Celsius, and 98 per cent relative humidity, are perfect for maturation.
‘As far as I know, no one other than Perrier-Jouët has any of this champagne left,’ he adds.
In December, Christie’s is auctioning the opportunity to drink this unique wine at the Perrier-Jouët family’s Maison Belle Epoque, home to one of the world’s greatest collections of Art Nouveau design. Also included is an overnight stay for up to 10 guests, with a guided tour of the house and cellars, and a meal by chef Pierre Gagnaire, whose Paris restaurant at Hotel Balzac has three Michelin stars.
The experience carries an estimate of £10,000-15,000.
The 1874 champagne was originally intended to be sold primarily in the UK, where Victorian connoisseurs welcomed Perrier-Jouët’s notably dry — or ‘Brut’ — style.
Indeed, Oscar Wilde was so fond of the 1874 vintage that he ordered a case of it to his cell after being imprisoned for the crime of ‘gross indecency’. His dying wish was even said to be one final glass of ‘PJ’.
On 26 March 1888, Christie’s sold seven magnums of the 1874 Perrier-Jouët to a ‘P. Gordon’ for the sum of £25 — equivalent to four months’ salary for a skilled tradesman.
The price made it the most expensive champagne ever sold at auction, a record that remained unchallenged until 1967.
But what will a bottle of champagne that predates the invention of the lightbulb taste like?
‘Well, it will probably have lost most of its fizz, as the effervescence declines over time, but it should still retain a vibrant acidity and freshness,’ says Triptree.
‘The colour will have moved from a pale lemon-green to a golden amber, and it will also have developed additional complexities, changing from the notes of citrus and green apple that are common in young champagne to a more mature palate of butterscotch, caramel and honey.’
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‘With such an old vintage, I expect aromas of incense and cognac, together with vanilla, tobacco and marmalade,’ adds Séverine Frerson, Perrier-Jouët’s first female cellar master. ‘There may even be charming hints of chocolate.
‘It’s a taste of history — back to a time when Germany and Italy were newly founded countries and the Impressionists were just starting to flourish in France.’
The bottle is being offered alongside several other rare vintage cuvées from the Oenothèque Perrier-Jouët hand-picked by Frerson.
Among them are bottles of Perrier-Jouët Brut Millésimé from 1964, Perrier-Jouët Blason de France from 1979 and Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque from 1988, 1989 and 1990 — all including a bespoke visit to the Maison Belle Epoque.