The house of perfumes

AAs soon as I arrived in Aÿ, a small town lying on the shore of La Marne and surrounded by hills covered in Grand Cru vineyards, I literally ran through the alleys of the old town to discover the Maison. I was galvanised to say the least, full of expectations: I had been guided there by my woman’s sense of smell and I just couldn’t wait any longer. I wanted to discover everything about that place and its sparkling essence; about its perfumes and the secrets that created them. Everything originated from there, exclusively there:

the selection of
Grand Cru grapes
in the highest plot of land at the edge of the woods, the magic of fermentation,
the ageing, the tasting.

The big iron gate was open. The beautiful Champenois-style custard yellow mansion, with its typical slate grey-blue roof, was there waiting for me. I stepped in and, walking through the patio, I found myself in the elegant living room. I immediately felt at home. And within seconds, my nose was overwhelmed by a thousand scents, a thousand perfumes from which just as many sensations arose:

freshness, intensity, purity.
Sparkling elegance.
All that elegance necessary to generate
the mystery of perlage.

Finally, I was there, and I could perceive all the nuances, all the inspiration. The fresh citrus fruits, the ripe fruit, the acacia flowers. My nose was pervaded by the fruity notes of the wild strawberries of the Rosé. Gingerbread and toasted almonds. You could also sense touches of hazelnuts, blond tobacco, wilted flowers, caramel, and bark.

And you won’t believe it, but I could grasp the complexity of the aromas created by the three levels of maturation, youth, maturity, and fullness. Time always has something to say when it comes to creation. But how did such extraordinary perfume originate? What was the secret of those pure bubbles? This is precisely what I was there to discover. Of course, everyone knew that the enthralling perfume of champagne was to be attributed to a magical process: ten million bubbles, maybe more, contained in a glass, would drag dozens of aromatic compounds to the surface and spray air just under your nose as you taste the champagne, enrapturing you. Oh yes, the flavour of champagne really tickles the nose, making you anticipate the taste before it reaches your mouth. It’s all a matter of nose, the very tool that captures and sends the most detailed information on flavours, and I knew it well. Champagne getting close to your nostrils feels like an opera overture: you get a taste of the main theme, discovering the most persistent notes, which then accompany us through the tasting.

Often, the effervescence of the small bubbles provides a true background to olfactory sensations and then, after a waft of white flowers, orange zest or wild berries can make an appearance. Each champagne has its own notes:

its intensity and character are
the secret
of its master blender.

That particular perfume was tasty and intense. Its personality had a full body and character. Walking around the Lallier Maison, I was set to discover every reason: perhaps the decisive factor was the extraordinary expertise, gained over all these production years, way back from 1906 to today? Or maybe it was the choice to use only a small quantity of vins de reserve. What if it was actually the nature of the terroir that expressed itself in the aromatic originality of each cuvée? Or maybe the difference stemmed from the choice to exclusively use “home-made” yeasts for fermentation?

Caught up by these thoughts, I opened a bottle of Ouvrage – the elegant Extra Brut Grand Cru – and waited for the wine to “open up” while observing it: the bright golden colour was painted in the glass by a thin trail of bubbles.

At the first sniff, I immediately grasped its persistent bouquet, the freshness of yellow fruit, the intensity of candied citrus fruits and bread crust. Then, after a few long instants, my second sniff captured its deep aroma:

slightly toasted,
it smelled like butter and brioche,
and dried apricots.
It was powerful and refined
at the same time.

All my questions vanished instantly: that Maison was a place full of life and sparklingness. It was the place giving life to bubbles that make every moment truly extraordinary.

The Spiritheque