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When New York’s crystal-laden Baccarat Hotel, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, reopened on October 5, following an extended closure due to COVID-19, the property’s wine director, Matthieu Yamoum, had two reasons to celebrate. Returning to work was one, but, for more immediate gratification, his first-ever champagne was about to be released. Called Piper-Heidsieck Essentiel Cuvée Reserve, the bubbly is a collaboration with eponymous Champagne house Piper-Heidsieck and debuted the same week Baccarat began accepting overnight guests again.
“It was almost a two year process from the concept to the final product, and the fact that it [was] released during the pandemic has made my time off of work that much easier,” Yamoum told us, as we sampled the Champagne.
Yamoun’s relationship with Piper-Heidsieck goes back more than four years to when he created the Champagne list for Baccarat which, with around 300 selections, is the largest list of the sparkling wine in the country. While sampling various Champagnes to include, Yamoum discovered Rare, Piper’s most premium cuvée, and enjoyed it so much that he decided to make it one of the few top-shelf Champagnes offered by the glass. “It became a bestseller, and as I bought more and more, I became close with the head winemaker at the time, Regis Camus,” said Yamoun.
Their connection was personal as much as it was professional. Both are from the Champagne region, and Camus knew Yamoun’s father, who owned a Thai restaurant in Rennes that chefs and winemakers frequented late at night. Fast forward to 2018 when Camus invited Yamoun to partner with Piper for a blend under his name.
“I grew up drinking and loving Champagne, and I had wanted to have one of my own ever since I became a sommelier,” Yamoun said.
He went into the process of creating an exclusive Champagne for Baccarat Hotel with a firm idea of what his iteration should taste like: it needed to be complex yet approachable, and accessible even for non-Champagne drinkers and those who aren’t oenophiles. “I didn’t want it to be esoteric and just for wine geeks,” he said. “Everyone should enjoy it, no matter what flavor profiles they like.”
Yamoun created Essentiel in early 2019 when he visited Piper’s headquarters in Rennes. Piper’s new winemaker, Emilien Boutillat, was on hand as his co-collaborator. Over the course of a week, the duo tasted more than 100 reserve wines with varying levels of sugar that had been aged in the label’s trademark steel vats, and chose around 50 to further consider for Yamoun’s blend. Several rounds of sipping later, they decided on nine for the final recipe. The wine was disgorged at the end of 2019 and aged for nine months.
The result of that trip and Yamoun’s time with Boutillat is a rich, golden-colored Champagne with pinot noir, Meunier, and chardonnay grapes. Essentiel has a distinct, fruity nose and tastes crisp and fresh with peachy and lemon peel overtones and subtle touches of kaffir limes and toasted almonds.
It’s easy to drink and pairs well with seafood, lighter meats, and spicy cuisine like Indian and Thai food. We finished the bottle leftover from our tasting while enjoying a chili-laced butter chicken curry and found it to be a refreshing antidote to the heat.
Yamoun had originally intended to make his Champagne a Baccarat Hotel exclusive, solely for patrons of the see-and-be-seen Grand Salon, who could order it by the glass or bottle. Given its release, while these establishments are still closed (a reopening date hasn’t yet been announced), would-be imbibers can find a bottle for $49.95 at wine retailer Bottle Bronx. It’s also on the wine menu at Manhattan’s two Michelin-starred Gabriel Kreuther Restaurant, because the namesake chef is Baccarat’s culinary director.
Once the Baccarat Hotel’s Grand Salon is back in business, however, Essentiel won’t be available for retail sale. Piper produced 4,000 bottles, and with 1,000 bottles sold in the week following Essentiel’s debut, it’s not likely to last long.