Rare Champagne is the spin-off of Rare, the former préstige cuvée of Piper-Heidsieck and now and brand and house on its own. It is among the finest cuvées of Champagne, and Rare 2006 was declared “Best Champagne of 2020” by Drink Business magazine.
In 2018, EPI, the french family group that owns Piper-Heidsieck (and its sister house Charles Heidsieck), decided to push further its prestige cuvée Rare and made it a separate brand. In the same year, it appointed Régis Camus, former Chef de Cave of Piper-Heidsieck, as its dedicated Cellar Master.
Rare was first made in 1976, a special vintage in Champagne, and since then only a few releases have followed, with 1979, 1985, 1988, and 1990. But then, it got discontinued.
In 1994 Régis joined Piper-Heidsieck and realized the potential of this high-end champagne. This is how he secretly re-crafted it with the 1997 vintage, adopting the blend that was previously used.
Delighted with the blend and the results, Regis continued working on it and the house “officially” produced and released Rare 1998, 1999, 2002, 2006, and 2008.
In 2018, the house eventually released Rare 1997, after two decades of discreet aging, and dubbed it Le Secret (the Secret), referring to its “clandestine” origins and Régis uncompliant approach.
All Rare vintages earned numerous awards and gold medals at wine and champagne competitions, and to make the offering of this focused house more diversified, Rare Rosé Millésime 2007 and 2008 were included in the range of wines.
Vineyard and Production
The production tool to make Rare is the same as Piper-Heidsieck, located at its elegant and ultra-modern site in Reims. The vinifications are fairly traditional and always in stainless-steel vats and so is the dosage always around 9 g/l except for Le Secret that receives no dosage.
However, Régis selects very specific crus to make up the blend of Rare, which is composed of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. The wines he seeks must have specific expressions, rather than a high rank in the scale of crus.
Most of the Chardonnays do not come, as one could expect for a cuvée of this caliber, from the Côte des Blancs, but from the Montagne de Reims. Specifically, from the “Chardonnay Sector” of this Pinot sub-region of Champagne: Villers-Marmery, Trépail, Vaudemange, and Billy-le-Grand. These wines have marked citrus notes, especially lemon, in their youth, and marked freshness and minerality. But the blend also includes Chardonnays from the Côte des Blancs, especially from Chouilly and Avize, which also bring minerality. Other crus, whether premier or ordinary crus, are also included because they can add “spices” to the blend.
For the Pinot Noirs, Régis prefers those from the Montagne de Reims, particularly from Verzy, for their sheer intensity and powerful, silky texture.
Régis has always crafted Rare only in truly singular years that he describes with single words highlighting their distinctive character. For example, the latest available vintage, 2008, is “Infinite” because it seems to never end, constantly evolving and improving over time.
You can look at Rare as a great Blanc de Blancs with a dash of Pinot Noir, which always carries citrus and exotic fruits scents, great freshness and minerality, combined with a great aging capacity for continuous enrichment over the years.
The vintages currently available are Rare Champagne 1988, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2006, and 2008, plus Rare Rosé 2007 and 2008. Rare Le Secret (1997) is only available in magnum, in the Goldsmith Edition (with a real golden plate on the bottle), and the High Jewelry Edition (the bottle is engraved with diamonds). In the market, you can still find some 1976, 1979, 1985, and 1990. My favorite so far is 1998, which is also among my top three champagnes of all time, but 2002 and 2006 are close to making me change my mind.