When we visited Charles Heidsieck in Reims earlier this month, the ever charming Cyril Brun – Chef de Caves since 2015 – was unfortunately recuperating from a cold. However, upbeat as always, he shared with us his recipe for recovery. “I am using local medicine,” he said with characteristic humour and a twinkle in his eye. Happy to add ‘medicinal’ to our list of Champagne Benefits, we volunteered ourselves for a taste of this provincial remedy. With the help of Executive Director Stephen Leroux and International Brand Ambassador Sophie Kutten, Brun introduced a new member of the Charles Heidsieck non-vintage family, the latest vintage champagnes, a new prestige cuvée and a resurrected relic from the past.
The Rosé NV has seen a big jump in base vintage recently, transitioning from 2008 to 2012. The 80% base vintage content is equally divided between the three grape varieties, whilst the 20% reserve wine content is composed of 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay. The 5% red wine from Les Riceys bring the tannins and red fruit aroma that lend it a delightful fleshy character.
As we tasted, Cyril told us of his recent dosage experiments. Charles are exploring the idea of reducing the concentration of sugar in their dosage liqueur and increasing the volume added. Dosage liqueur generally contains around 600 g/L of sugar. By reducing this to nearer 300 g/L and adding older reserve wines, Brun hopes to bring more texture to the finished product. “It will not make magic, but detail + detail counts,” he acknowledged.
Charles Heidsieck Rosé Réserve NV | Base Vintage: 2012
Next, we were shown the newest member of the Charles Hedisieck non-vintage range. Officially launched last weekend and available in May 2018, this brand new Blanc de Blancs cuvée is a tribute to the Chardonnay focus of the house initiated in 1947. It is composed of wine from around ten different villages, including Charles Heidsieck favourites Montgueux, Oger, Trépail, Vertus and Villers-Marmery.
Very different to the richly mature Blanc des Millénaires, Blanc de Blancs NV is all about freshness of youth, more a Chardonnay expression of the Brut Réserve NV, than a mini-Blanc des Millénaires. Based on the 2012 harvest and with 20% reserve wine, the production volume of this first release is tiny and will be initially targeted towards the on-trade.
|Charles Heidsieck Blanc de Blancs NV | Base Vintage: 2012
100% CH | Reserve Wine: 20% | Lees Ageing: 4 years | Disgorged: September 2017 | Dosage: 10 g/L
Lovely bright yellow/lemon/gold colour. Style is quite floral with lovely fresh apple, rich lemon and sherbet notes. Very pure and elegant – slight hints of pepper spice on the finish. Very fresh, balance seems perfect. Going back, spicy hints and cream come out on the nose. 17.5/20
We completed our non-vintage trilogy tasting with the currently released Brut Réserve NV, which is based on 2010. Although a difficult year, Brun remarked on the lack of pollution from the 2010 harvest. The seamless transition from different base vintages without a change in quality is what he describes as “the beauty of non-vintage champagne.”
Later this year, Brut Réserve NV will move to the 2012 base vintage, the first time in history when all Charles Heidsieck NV’s on the market will have the same base year. The average age of the reserve wines – a high 40% of the blend – is ten years, adding finesse and aromatic amplitude to what is one of the best non-vintage champagnes available.
|Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV | Base Vintage: 2010
40% CH, 40% PN, 20% PM | Reserve Wine: 40% | Lees Ageing: 6 years | Disgorged: November 2017 | Dosage: 11 g/L
Nice bright fruit on the nose, some peach and apple. Very upfront fruit on the palate, richness of bread character coming out and that rich apple and spiciness. Very gentle carbonation. Great length. 17.5/20
New Vintage Champagnes
As we tasted the two new Charles Heidsieck vintages, Brun talked us through the house policy on corks and their recent switch to technological corks. “In 2017, we were 70% synthetic [technological] and 30% natural, which is going up 10% each year”, he said. In a few years, they will be using technological corks – which guarantee zero-TCA and ensure bottle-to-bottle homogeneity – on every bottle of champagne. Brun is so confident of their prowess, he believes that in ten years’ time, no-one will pay any attention to cork. “The act of sniffing wine as a sommelier will disappear,” he added.
In a further effort to promote consistency, Charles Heidsieck are experimenting with jetting. This technique involves squirting water (usually mixed with sulphites) into each bottle at high speed, immediately after disgorgement. This creates a foaming effect, which prevents oxygen from getting into the bottle and continues until the bottle is corked. The use of both technological corks and jetting is becoming more and more popular in Champagne and is heralded for protecting the liquid we love and guaranteeing bottle consistency.
|Charles Heidsieck Brut Millésime 2006
60% PN, 40% CH | Lees Ageing: 9 years | Disgorged: Spring 2017 | Dosage: 10 g/L
Has lovely yellow plums, rich ripe apples and some of that secondary bottle age character. Some creaminess coming through. Lost a little freshness since last taste, now getting more heavy with the honey and lavender. 17/20
|Charles Heidsieck Rosé Millésime 2005
60% PN, 40% CH | Red Wine: 8% | Lees Ageing: 11 years | Disgorged: July 2017 | Dosage: 10 g/L
Real vinous character and very rich dried fruits from the heavy phenolics of the 2005 vintage. A few days ago this was very angular and now slightly rounding. 17.5/20
Moving onto the vintages, Leroux spoke of the decision to release Rosé Millésime non-consecutively – Rosé 2006 first, now followed by Rosé 2005. “We [Thierry Roset and Stephen Leroux] made the rosé decision in seconds, but it wasn’t the same with the blanc,” he said. The vintage variation wasn’t as obvious as with the rosés and although initially very youthful and fresh, Brut Millésime 2006 is now already quite rich and condense, characteristics you’d expect from a much older champagne. Given the chance again it is likely they would have also reversed the order of release for the blanc but, as Leroux noted, “you cannot repeat history”.
Rosé Millésime 2005 on the other hand is just beginning its life cycle. In 2005, they harvested quite late with a lot of phenolics, which will slow the maturation. Brun commented that Rosé 2005 is changing daily: just 48 hours before our visit it was very angular and bold, yet now it was sightly rounding and softer. With 8% red wine, half sourced from Les Riceys and half from the Montagne de Reims, this is a tremendous vintage rosé that is likely to challenge its highly acclaimed predecessor.
Blanc des Millénaires
The new Blanc des Millénaires 2004 was officially launched in January 2018, so this was a good opportunity to see how it has evolved since then. Brun explained that the new vintage needed lots of time post-disgorgement. “When originally disgorged back in November 2016, it carried too much of the 2004 vintage and did not taste like a BdM,” he told us. By November 2017, after one year post-disgorgement, it steadily began to open up. Now, six months later, it has so much creaminess, purity and complexity.
As we tasted the previous vintage, Blanc des Millénaires 1995, it emerged that Brun had decided – unbeknownst to us – to test another one of his experiments. After a few moments of tasting, Essi Avellan asked Brun if this bottle had a lower dosage than others, citing less acidity and lots more freshness than she has become accustomed to expect from this champagne – which is now over 20 years old. Smiling (no doubt at Essi’s talent for distinction), Brun informed us that the latest batch had in fact been jetted after disgorgement. Apparently, the resulting champagne is often likened to that of a lower dosage, however is simply just the effect of completely removing oxygen, which may – without jetting – vary between bottles.
The difference was genuinely astounding. A champagne that is now just starting to show its age has been completely transformed, given a new lease of life and an extended drinking window of 4-5 years. The finish isn’t any drier and the lack of oxygen gives a broader and rounder experience. “Winemaking is not just poetry, sometimes there is some technique,” Brun added.
|Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 2004
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 11 years | Disgorged: November 2016 | Dosage: 9 g/L
Lovely energy in the glass. Has a real purity and richness of character. Texture is just wow. This has already opened right up compared to launch two months ago. 18 to 18.5/20
|Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1995
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 21 years | Disgorged: Spring 2017 | Dosage: 10 g/L
Super fresh nose and incredibly fresh palate with oodles of acidity. A butteryness that goes on & on & a sweet spiciness like home-baked biscuits. Stunning example of the subtle effects of jetting. 18.5-19/20
To conclude our tasting, Brun opened a magnum of Champagne Charlie 1982 – one of the champagnes re-released last year as part of the exciting Collection Crayères. The exact blend is unknown – head winemaker at the time Daniel Thibault was not precise about his recipes – but is likely around 50% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir. The dosage was similarly not recorded, but we were told is probably around 12 or 13+ g/L. Interestingly, this bottle was kept on the lees for nearly two decades and disgorged in 1999, making Charles Heidsieck the first house to disgorge old wines late – a now common trend amongst champagne producers, such as Dom Pérignon Oenothèque.
Unfortunately there were only five vintages of Champagne Charlie – 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1985 – before the cuvée was discontinued as Charles Heidsieck was bought by the Rémy-Cointreu group and relegated to live under the shadow of Krug for a decade or more. Fortunately, a few hundred magnums still exist. Almost unbelievably fresh and youthful, Champagne Charlie 1982 tastes like a champagne twenty years its junior – a testament to the slow-maturation magnificence of magnums. Impossible to spit and unbearable to stop pouring, a sentiment summed up succinctly by Brun: “A good bottle is an empty bottle.”
Charles Heidsieck Champagne Charlie 1982 Magnum