We visited seventeen houses and their respective winemakers during our recent vins clairs trip to Champagne, and of them all, Charles Heidsieck Chef de Cave, Cyril Brun, was the most cautious when it came to discussing vintage 2018s potential.
“The wines in 2018 were good overall,” he told us. “Some were exceptional… some over-mature.” According to Brun, the biggest difficulty during harvest 2018 was knowing when to start picking grapes: “A week’s difference in picking in a rich and ripe vintage like 2018 can make a tremendous difference.”
In the end, the average potential alcohol levels for the Charles Heidsieck wines was 11.2%, the average pH 3.11, and yields were around 15,000 kg/ha across most regions. Although malic acid was quite low in 2018, Brun decided to do full malolactic fermentation on all of the wines.
“This year  reminds me a little bit of 2003 and 2005… we have the ripeness of 2003 and the phenolic character of 2005,” Brun said. While Brut Millésime 2018 has already been made, he has not yet committed to producing a Blanc des Millénaires vintage. “We have some options… with Blanc des Millénaires, we are looking for the long ageing wines.”
Overall, Brun’s expectations for the vintage are high, but he is certainly more wary than others to declare 2018 outstanding just yet, attributing at least some of the hype to the still vivid memory of last year’s poor vintage. “This is the big danger of having such a marvellous vintage after a difficult year… if it is that easy during harvest, something is probably not right. Making a Blanc des Millénaires and a vintage will be complex.”
“The good news is that we’ve managed to get rid of all the bad wine that was polluting the winery from 2017… that’s the biggest thing this year!”
2018 Vins Clairs
Charles Heidsieck kicked off the harvest in Montgueux, picking grapes as early as 23rd August. This southern village usually produces rich, round and exotic wine, but by harvesting early this year, Charles have the minerality and freshness – ideal for the Blanc de Blancs NV.
The wine from Villers is currently stored in 228hl oak barrels from Burgundy and will eventually go into the Brut Réserve NV blend (which contains 7-9% wines from oak), to bring extra complexities. “The idea is not to have oaky characters, just to get some of the complexity from the barrel,” Brun explained.
His concern with 2018 became clear when tasting the Pinot Noirs, which Brun believes are a bit too ripe this year. “If there is one disappointment, it’s the Pinot Noir. I’m happy I don’t have to make a Blanc de Noirs!” he joked. Indeed, the Pinot Noir from Aÿ – which would typically go into the reserve wine program – has gone straight into the Brut NV blend, highlighting the over-maturity and readiness of some of the 2018 Pinots.
|CHARDONNAY | Côte des Blancs | Autre Cru: Montgueux
Loads of lemon and apple ripeness. Some of those tropical notes like pineapple and still quite fresh. A good profile for the BdB NV.
|CHARDONNAY | Côte des Blancs | Grand Cru: Oger
Has some apple spice with great tension and freshness. Plenty of richness and lifts up at the end with salinity. Cyril described as “Chardonnay with shoulders.”
|CHARDONNAY | Vallée de la Marne | Autre Cru: Villers-sous-Châtillon
For Brut Reserve NV – loads of apples and pears. Really lively and fresh.
|PINOT MEUNIER | Vallée de la Marne | Autre Cru: Verneuil
Much more pear driven on the nose with strawberry and pineapple freshness. Good texture and nice tension.
|PINOT NOIR | Montagne de Reims | Premier Cru: Tauxières-Mutry
Lots of red berries, like raspberry and strawberry. Big and juicy and has good freshness. Cyril things a little too ripe.
|PINOT NOIR | Vallée de la Marne | Grand Cru: Aÿ
Lots of ripe tropical notes – peaches and redcurrants. Seems very generous, soft and juicy. Could almost bottle as a still wine.
We also sampled some reserve wines of varying ages. Typically, reserve wines around 5 years old are used for the Blanc de Blancs NV, while the 10 year and older reserve wines go into the Brut Réserve NV blend. The oldest reserve in the Charles Heidsieck winery is – and has been for quite some time – the revered Cramant 1996. However, it has evolved a lot since we last tasted it two years ago and Brun therefore intends on using around 70% of it this year. “We are not a museum,” he joked. “We make wine and this is at its peak right now.”
The wines we tasted are stored in 429hl and 220hl stainless steel tanks, respectively. Brun explained that he prefers to pre-blend the reserve wines and store them in large tanks, to “make the most of the magnum effect, as wines can tire quickly in smaller tanks.”
Tasting this selection of reserve wines alongside the 2018 vins clairs highlighted the lack of acidity in the 2018 wines. Brun commented that this year’s Brut Réserve NV blend will have around 40-42% reserve wines, explaining that with the 2018 wines being so open already, he doesn’t need to use lots of reserves.
|PINOT NOIR | Montagne de Reims | Grand Cru: Ambonnay 2013
Big peachy nose. This is an example of great structure and freshness and demonstrates how big and powerful but with soft acidity the 2018s are – a good comparison. This is right up there with power.
|CHARDONNAY | Côte des Blancs | Grand Cru: Oger 2008
Perhaps muted on the nose, has some of the smokey character with great freshness and depth. Cyril believes now is the right time to use this one.
|CHARDONNAY | Côte des Blancs | Grand Cru: Cramant 1996
Very spicy, has some of that lychee character with depth, broadness and great texture. Evolved a lot in the two years since last tasted – has more of a Riesling character coming out.
We concluded our tasting with some finished champagnes: the latest iterations of Blanc de Blancs NV and Brut Réserve NV (both based on 2012), and Blanc des Millénaires 2004. As we tasted, discussion turned to bottle closures and Brun confirmed that Charles Heidsieck no longer use natural corks at all. Currently, the whole range is being stoppered with Mytik Diam technological corks (although they are trialling other suppliers) and they are also jetting on the whole NV range and Blanc des Millénaires – both in an effort to ensure bottle-to-bottle consistency.
He did note however, that there are some concerns over the climate impact of producing technological corks. “The supercritical CO2 process is not the most environmental,” he told us. That said, Brun justifies their use as “likely better than the environmental cost of re-supplying cork tainted bottles across the globe.”
|Charles Heidsieck Blanc de Blancs NV | 17/20
100% CH | Base Vintage: 2012 | Reserve Wine: 20% | Dosage: 10 g/l
Much more open than my last taste, the fruit is lovely and pure with fresh apples going a little creamy and hints of vanilla. The length has started to develop, this champagne is on a slow evolution which suggests you could lay this down for 5 years or more and then come back and enjoy.
|Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV | 17/20
40% CH, 40% PN, 20% PM | Base Vintage: 2012 | Reserve Wine: 40% | Lees Ageing: 5 Years | Disgorged: Summer 2018 | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year | Dosage: 10 g/l
Lots of great fruit with hints of toasty character and lees character that takes the champagne to new levels. Long and lingering finish. The texture is really captivating.
|Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 2004 | 19/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 13 Years | Disgorged: February 2018 | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year | Dosage: 9 g/l
Has the subtlety and power on the nose, still seems very restrained though there is some of the power of the fruit. This still seems very youthful and tight – Cyril commented that the longevity will be more than 10 years.