Visiting our friends in the small village of Chavot-Courcourt on the outskirts of Epernay, I was immediately enchanted by the sight of the most beautiful bottle of Champagne I had ever seen. It was a Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque and the drink of choice for our hosts. Not only was the bottle exquisite, beautifully painted with delicate white flowers, but there were dainty glasses to match. How I coveted those glasses! Surely the champagne must taste so much better in such a glass! I would certainly feel so much more elegant drinking from one.
The champagne house of Perrier-Jouët was established in 1811. The original Belle Epoque bottle art was designed in 1902 by the great Art Nouveau master, Emile Gallé, who had a passion for floral art. The white flowers are supposed to represent the delicate aroma typical of the chardonnay blend of this grande Cuvée.
Perrier-Jouët is situated in Epernay, and as such, the locals hold it very dear. In preparation of my Brother-in-Law’s wedding, his future father-in-law ordered more than 500 magnums (double sized bottles) of Perrier-Jouët Brut for the reception. This was two magnums per person attending the wedding! They sure know how to make people welcome in Champagne. Sadly, I missed the wedding, still living in Australia at the time, but lucky for me, he over-catered, so there was always plenty of Perrier-Jouët for me to drink everytime we visited. As a wedding gift, Perrier-Jouët offered the bride and groom a Jeroboam each of 1985 Belle-Epoque. A Jeroboam holds the equivalent of 4 bottles of champagne. One of these was the captivating bottle I saw on my arrival.
Our friend is a wonderful cook, and on one of these visits, she was preparing something that smelled absolutely divine. While I was being plied up with champagne over the aperitif and being told lots of wonderful stories about life in Champagne, I didn’t think once to ask what was on the menu. It didn’t really matter, because it was always washed down with a wonderful champagne. Honestly, I had never seen such quantities of champagne being consumed. All these years on, I now know that they were actually very reasonable.
It was a beautiful sunny late summer’s day and we all sat down to eat. I asked what it was, and was told ‘En Papillotte – would you like some more to drink’. It was a bit of challenge back then to follow the full conversation, but I managed to establish that ‘en papillotte‘ was the method of cooking something wrapped up in aluminium foil and baked in the over. This meat was first spread with mustard and a fresh sprig of rosemary from the garden was added before it was wrapped up and cooked. I was a little frustrated they still hadn’t told me what the meat was, but was finally told it was like chicken. There are so many different types of poultry to eat in France, that I just assumed it was one that I didn’t know of. As I tucked in a declared it to be delicious, I noticed that there were two joints in my chicken leg. As I looked up and said ‘Why does this bird have two knee caps’, everyone at the table bust out laughing, and I suddenly understood that it was not chicken on my plate. Not even close. It was rabbit, that I swore I would never eat.
Seduced by Belle Epoque!
I didn’t hold it against them, but I still can’t eat rabbit without thinking of Epernay and Perrier-Jouët!
And those glasses? They are mine.