When Maison Taittinger retraced the footsteps of its origins, the House found the histories of champagne and horticulture closely intertwined.
At the origins of the Maison Taittinger story, we meet Thibaut IV – Count of Champagne, King of Navarre and heir to the second most powerful position in France after the King. In Louis IX’s court he tasked himself with preserving the art of poetry and the songs of so-called trouvères (poets who expressed themselves in Old French), as well as leaving noteworthy and varied poetical work. Legend also has it that he was at the origin of some incredible treasures upon his return from the Sixth Crusade in 1239. He brought back a rose from Damascus and planted it in numerous locations. It wasn’t long before the renown of the rose plant equalled that of its founder, and it came to be widely used in medicine and religious and secular ceremonies alike. Today the plant is more commonly known as the rose of Provins.
It is said that he also brought back a second treasure from his crusades in Cyprus, one which was yet to be discovered in France: a plant from a new grape variety, an ancestor of Chardonnay and thus the main ingredient in champagne. And so the history of Maison Taittinger began.
It was in honour of this count, whose seal adorns all of the bottles manufactured by the House, that Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne cuvee was created in 1952. This cuvee is blended exclusively with Chardonnay grapes derived from the five villages of the Côte des Blancs with a Grands Crus classification: Avize, Cramant, Chouilly, Mesnil-sur-Oger and Oger, excellent terroirs of this plant in the Champagne region. It is only produced in exceptional, vintage-worthy years.
Seeking to revisit this intertwined history of the rose and champagne, in 2001 Claude Taittinger (Director of Maison Taittinger from 1960-2005) commissioned the creation of a rose to accompany this prestigious cuvee. He called on the talents of British rose breeder David Austin, recognised for his cross-breeding of particularly fragrant ancient and modern varieties. This collaboration led to the creation of a shrub rose, scented with honey and musk. Its flowers start off an intense yellow, almost orange, hue; with the petals gradually becoming paler as they bloom. Evoking a flute of champagne right down to their form, the roses unveil a delicate, yellow ochre stamen once the plant is mature. At the time Maison Taittinger scattered this new variety in the gardens of its headquarters at Place Saint-Nicaise (Reims). Akin to the cuvee with which it is associated, the production of this rose is exceptional due to its great delicacy and fragility.
In May 2001 it was presented for the first time at the Chelsea Flower Show in London, with the name “Rose Comte de Champagne” originally intended for the shrub. However, it was ultimately marketed as “Coniston”, with the Champagne appellation exclusively reserved for wines from the Champagne region.
“I’ll take Taittinger blanc de blancs… it is not well known but it is probably the finest champagne in the world.” James Bond ordered Taittinger’s Blanc de blancs in Ian Flemming’s Casino Royal, written in 1952. Today it is up to us to add that the uniqueness of the Comtes de Champagne cuvee is equal only to the rose that bears the same name.