Anthony Rose: When perfumer Lyn Harris smelled the Blanc de Blancs, she found it 'fresh and lemony, then floral'
Saturday 03 October 2009
They're two of the best noses in the business, both devoted to creating luxury products, although with very different objectives. Fred Panaiotis is the winemaker at Ruinart Champagne, the region's oldest champagne house founded in 1729. Lyn Harris is the perfumer at Miller Harris, which is 10 years old next year. When Fred invited Lyn to visit Ruinart's cellars in Reims, she had two small problems to overcome: an aversion to bubbly and nervousness as to whether she'd "get" the wine- tasting or not. She was up for the challenge, though.
The ends may be different, but the means require both Lyn and Fred to use their sensitive olfactory bulbs to create a sum that's greater than the parts. In Fred's case, Ruinart calls on between 150 and 200 sources of grapes for its champagnes. Lyn, who trained in Paris and with Robertet in Grasse, has even more raw materials at her disposal. She commonly uses up to 300 different natural and synthetic fragrances (out of more than 2,000) to make up her perfumes, one of which, L'Air de Rien, created specially for Jane Birkin, has become a cult fragrance.
"Our worlds are different on a lot of levels," says Lyn, "but there are so many parallels too." Tasting the Ruinart Blanc de Blancs with Fred was a revelation. "It was extraordinary how we connected," says Lyn. At first they connected through the scientific arcana of odour compounds such as aldehydes and esters, but a common language of smell and taste soon emerged. According to Fred, "We don't work the same way but we came to the same conclusions. It was like two different languages merging."
When Lyn first smelt the Blanc de Blancs, she found it "fresh and lemony, then floral, there were so many subtle elements to it, and we found ourselves talking about hedione." Hedione is a natural constituent of jasmine responsible for freshness in floral fragrances, and an important element in a mutual favourite, Eau Sauvage. "At the heart of the hedione there's this lovely peach. I just couldn't believe how characterful the taste was." The sensitive Panaiotis nose was finding it hard to keep up: "She has a more trained nose than I do and can find descriptors that go beyond what I'm looking for."
The experience opened Fred's eyes – and nose – to the possibilities of new descriptors for his blends. Lyn, seeing a fragrance-like top note, heart and base in the Blanc de Blancs was inspired to create a special fragrance. "I would have all the beautiful top notes of the peach aldehyde, focus around the lemon citrus note, add citrus elements, like grapefruit, and focus on hedione in the heart, so I would have a jasminey touch, a honeysuckle element and perhaps add some green elements, some fruity notes and musk." To be called Blanc de Blancs perhaps?
The floral, creamy Champagne Ruinart Blanc de Blancs is available from Majestic, £60, or £39.99 if you buy two. The fragrant, raspberry-scented Ruinart Rosé is the same price, and the elegantly toasty Ruinart Brut NV, is £45, or £29.99 if you buy two. Throughout October, Mon-Sat, 3pm-5.30pm, the Miller Harris store on Bruton Street, London W1 (020-7629 7750), is holding a Ruinart Afternoon Tea with a glass of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, Miller Harris blended Bergamot tea and a selection of peach friands and lemon meringue cupcakes for £19.
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