It isn’t my birthday or New Year’s Eve. It’s just a Friday in December but as the door opens I am immediately greeted with a glass of bubbles. The bubbles in hand? A glass of Perrier-Jouët’s 2017 Blanc de Blancs, a tribute to Chardonnay, the signature grape variety of this iconic French champagne house; elegant, dry and floral.
And that door? Since 1811, the cellar masters of Perrier-Jouët have fiercely guarded its privacy, opening it only to welcome VIPs rumoured to range from Queen Victoria to Victoria Beckham. After Epernay and its surrounding vineyards were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015, demand from the general public began to build. So, in June of 2021, the legendary champagne producer started welcoming a limited number of visitors to the original home of their owners, the Maison Belle Époque, situated at a prime address across the street from Moët & Chandon in Epernay’s fabled Avenue de Champagne. Only for lunch. Limited to no more than 12 people. Twice a week; Fridays and Saturdays only.
With champagne in hand, the lunch, which is more accurately billed as a gastronomic experience, begins with a small tour of the ground floor’s salons, dining room and bar. As it turns out, the Maison Belle Époque is a showcase of one of the largest collections of Art Nouveau in France; original pieces by Rodin and Toulouse-Lautrec are complemented by ornate pieces of furniture by Henri Guimard, best known for designing the iconic entrances to the Paris Metro.
The Art Nouveau movement, popular from 1890-1910, produced elegant art and design that was inspired by the organic natural forms of the stems and blossoms of flowers and plants. The signature wreath of Japanese anemone flowers that adorn the bottles of Perrier-Jouët’s champagnes were designed by Art Nouveau pioneer Emile Galle in 1902 for the brand’s “Belle Époque” prestige cuvée.
This connection to Art Nouveau and nature is woven into the DNA of the Perrier-Jouët brand. The 5-course “Banquet of Nature” luncheon, inspired by renowned French chef Pierre Gagnaire, and created and realized by his protegée, Executive Chef Sébastien Morellon, was designed to pair with the cellar master’s champagnes. The opposite of how a drink and wine pairing typically works. Our menu matches the stages of growth in the surrounding vineyards, from seed to maturity highlighting the various floral notes and the unique chalk-based soil for which the Champagne region is renowned.
The dishes are art in themselves; Scallop Pascaline with a nettle sauce, which created the taste of chalkiness in my mouth, poached sea bass in a sea urchin bisque, flavours that were combined to awaken our taste buds, and a veal blanquette, which, when paired with the Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque 2013, mimicked the flowering of the vines on my tongue. Each course created to compliment the accompanying champagne.
Our host is Sébastian Lebon. His title is brand ambassador, but he could easily have added sommelier and art historian to his credentials and no one would have batted an eye. In between courses, he guides you on a sensory experience further connecting the elements of nature to the tasting experience. Before the first course, we are presented with pieces of chalk and bottles of scents; cornflower, jasmine and violet. He instructs us to drop the scents on the pieces of chalk. “Smell the florals and the minerality of the chalk,” he says in perfect English, with a heavy French accent. “It will enhance the taste of the champagne.”
After the second course, he invites us to explore the textures of the champagne when we are presented with a selection of flowers in small vases. The Angel’s Wing is velvety and rich to touch. The orchid is delicate, dense and satiny. We are asked to compare the sensations of touch to the texture on our tongues.
The experience ends with Turkish delight combined with vanilla, marshmallow and a liquorice panna cotta, created to match the House’s Belle Époque Rosé 2010. So unusual and so delicious.
Despite being a regular Friday, the experience feels like a celebration. A celebration of art, nature and gastronomy. “Every occasion is special for us,” says Lebon. “There is always a bottle ready to be opened.”
Epernay is a one hour and 20-minute train ride from Paris’s Gare de L’Est. The Maison Belle Époque on the Avenue de Champagne is an easy five-minute walk from the train station. Lunches are available on Fridays and Saturdays and by advance reservation only. Call +33 (0)6 74 27 05 88 for details or contact them on Instagram @belleepoquesociety for more information on the Perrier-Jouët ecosystem.