Fort Myers Florida Weekly

Some sparkling conversation with a stellar champagne maker




When Régis Camus joined Piper- Heidsieck Champagne in 1994 as winemaker, he set out to increase quality and restore the house to one of the district’s finest. His strategy: expert blending, attention to detail, creating a collection of reserve wines to use as a base for his champagnes and introducing grapes from the Côte des Bar into the blends to provide complex fruit and minerality.

During his recent first trip to Florida, I dined with Mr. Camus and was able to taste his wines, which he likened to a fashion designer’s dress collection.

“The Brut NV is the off-the-rack choice,” he said, “excellent and fancy for everyday use. The Vintage is eveningwear, a step up in quality and style. The Rare is just that — rare, the haute couture collection, made for that special moment.”

Régis Camus shows his bottle of Rare 2002

Régis Camus shows his bottle of Rare 2002

Here are some of his other observations:

Q. What is it about the Côte des Bar region that adds such distinction to your wines?

A. “This region makes very interesting pinot noir, and it brings a certain crispness and structure to our wines. The micro-climate is special, the sun exposure is from a different angle and the terroir is different from other Champagne regions. We feel we get a lighter fruit structure with a certain crispness from the Côte des Bar, as opposed to the more vinous and apple flavors from the Côte des Blancs. It adds the flavor and feel of a crisp pear.”

Q. To what do you attribute your wine’s winning place as the only nonvintage selection in the Wine Spectator Top 100 in 2012?

A. “This is a beautiful recognition for us, and gives us validation that we are making our wine the right way, with the changes and decisions we have made in our production. I wanted to put quality first but knew it would take time for the changes I made to take effect.”

Q. To what do you attribute the honor of being named Sparkling Winemaker of the Year eight times by the International Wine Challenge?

A. “Well, first it means you need to keep your head between your ears, make sure it fits that space and no more. Of course (there is) personal pride for me, but (also) great pride for the team that makes the wine. Without, them we would be nothing. It is also a mark of pride and greatness for both Piper-Hiedsieck and the Champagne region. After winning so many years you can tell it was not by chance, but a purposeful thing to win this honor.”

Q. Which glass shape do you recommend for champagne?

A. “The flute is very fashionable and best for receptions, but it does not allow you to appreciate the bouquet or flavor. The coupe (flat saucer style) loses the fizz and is easy to spill. True wineglasses are the best. This glass will not make the champagne taste better than it is, but it will allow it to taste its best. The same applies to a carafe or decanter, and is especially important with vintage wines, as they are closed in the bottle for so many years. When poured into a glass, it is like the wine is stretching its legs after sitting a long time, or like releasing a teenager who has been locked in a room.”

Q. What size bottle of champagne do you prefer?

A. “A magnum is the best size bottle for two people, especially when one is not drinking.”

Piper-Heidsieck Champagnes of the Week:

Brut NV ($40): Pear and apple aromas with some citrus notes providing structure on the palate. It gives the impression of biting into a pear, and has great length across the palate while emphasizing the nose.

Vintage 2006 ($65): The winemaker’s first vintage release that is more chardonnay than pinot noir, this wine shows good structure with a generous fruit character of dried apricots and orange peel. The slight mineral from the Cotes de Bar pinot noir comes out on the back of the palate. Long and satisfying on the finish.

Rare 2002 ($175): Only the eighth vintage on this label since its inception in 1976, and only made in exceptional years, this elegant powerful wine features fresh fruit on the nose and the palate rich in tropical flavors of kiwi, mango and pineapple. It ends with a pure minerality mixed with spice on the long sustained finish.

Rosé Sauvage NV ($60): Fullbodied and with a rich, reddish-pink color, this one has cherry and blackberry on the nose with a touch of citrus and dried strawberries on the palate, ending with a spiced finish.

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