When Stephen Leroux took over as Director of Charles Heidsieck in 2013, the brand was facing extinction. The heyday of the 1970s – when Charles Heidsieck was one of the most celebrated champagne houses, bottles were flying off the shelves and, supported by the connection to its still-famous namesake ‘Champagne Charlie’ (the man credited with introducing champagne to the USA), marketing was a breeze – was well and truly over.
Acquired by spirits company Rémy Cointreau in 1985, the brand suffered under the shadow of the company’s other brands, Krug and Piper-Heidsieck, which assumed the roles of prestige and commercial champagnes respectively, while Charles gradually fell by the wayside. During this period, sales plummeted from around 4 million to 250,000 bottles annually by 2011, when it was bought by luxury goods company EPI.
EPI founder Christopher Descours wasted no time overturning the fortunes of the ailing brand. One of his first appointments: Stephen Leroux. Since he joined the house in 2013, global distribution has been overhauled, consumer awareness has been revitalised and the brand has reconnected with the story of its founder. The result: a dramatic increase in sales. Although content with the achievements of the past five years, Leroux is intent not to rest on his laurels and plans to double the current sales volume in the next ten years.
Alongside Leroux, Charles Heidsieck boast an innovative Chef de Cave in winemaker Cyril Brun, who has already accomplished much in his three-year tenure: releasing brand new champagne Blanc de Blancs NV earlier this year and the late-release Collection Crayères in 2017. Leroux came to London on Wednesday to host our Charles Heidsieck Dinner and Tasting, for which both current and old champagnes had been expertly paired with food by the team at Frederick’s, Islington.
Following the Blanc de Blancs NV apéritif, guests were treated to a starter of Dressed Crab & King Prawn Assiette, which was paired with the previous and current vintages of Blanc des Millénaires: 1995 and 2004. Interestingly, the general consensus at the table was that the dish complimented the more youthful fresh acidity of the Blanc des Millenaires 2004 better than the more rounded and more lees-like character of the Blanc des Millenaires 1995 – the freshness of the acidity of the younger vintage just seems to be a perfect partner.
|Charles Heidsieck Blanc de Blancs NV | 17.5/20
Base Vintage: 2012 | 100% CH | Reserve Wine: 25% | Lees Ageing: 4 Years | Disgorged: November 2017 | Dosage: 10 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 9 Months
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. Now 9 months post-disgorgement this is getting better as each month passes.
|Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1995 | 19/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 15 Years | Disgorged: Spring 2014 | Dosage: 12.2 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 4 Years
Super fresh nose and incredibly fresh palate with oodles of acidity. A butteryness that goes on and on and a sweet spiciness like home-baked biscuits. The very long lees ageing has kept this old champagne super fresh.
|Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 2004 | 18.5/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 11.5 Years | Disgorged: November 2016 | Dosage: 9 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Years
Lovely energy in the glass. Has a real purity and richness of character. Texture is just wow some of that chalky character now more evident with more post-disgorgement age. The freshness and lightness are helped as you get a hint of saltiness on the finish.
The main course featured Organic Salmon served cold with Potato Salad, Broad Beans & Summer Vegetables, which was presented alongside a pair of 2005s: the newly released Brut Millesime Rosé 2005 from bottle and Brut Millésime 2005 from magnum. Although one might expect the bolder, red berry flavours of the rosé to better compliment the delicate salmon, it was the 2005 magnum that provided the perfect match, its acidity and richness of fruit cutting through the saltiness of the salmon deliciously.
To finish, a Brut Millésime 1983 Magnum could only be paired with another French delicacy: Comté plus another classic aged Parmesan. After more than 15 years ageing on the lees and a further 19 years ageing in bottle in the cold chalk cellars (crayères) in Reims, Brut Millésime 1983 was released as part of the Collection Crayères in 2017. With good effervescence on opening and a bright coppery gold colour to be expected of a champagne more than thirty years old, the champagne was quite reticent at first. As the evening progressed however, each new tasting revealed a distinct personality. More then two hours after opening, it was incredibly racy and youthful – still looking old yet tasting anything but. The icing on the cake of a wonderful evening.
|Charles Heidsieck Rosé Millésime 2005 | 17.5/20
70% PN (8% Red Wine), 30% CH | Lees Ageing: 11 Years | Disgorged: October 2017 | Dosage: 10 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 10 Months
Real vinous character and very rich dried fruits from the heavy phenolics of the 2005 vintage. A few months ago this was more angular – now slightly rounding, it is slowly coming round for drinking. One with potential to age for 10+ years.
|Charles Heidsieck Brut Millésime 2005 Magnum | 18/20
60% PN, 40% CH | Lees Ageing: 8 Years | Disgorged: Summer 2014 | Dosage: 10.8 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 4 Years
Big mouth-feel and loads of fruit with lots of phenolic character. A lot of lees character and that distinctive creamy edge, so many layers of fruit, apples and grapefruits and tropical notes; this really opens up in the glass and will get even more expressive with age.
|Charles Heidsieck Brut Millésime 1983 Magnum | 19+/20
55%PN, 45% CH | Lees Ageing: 15 Years | Disgorged: March 1999 | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 19 Years
We tasted this two hours after opening and the power and youthfulness were leaping out of the glass. A beautiful combination of magnum aged characteristics, forest mushrooms, dried fruits, lime the most dominant of the citrus and a real zest of freshness, though mid-palate, zingy citrus, mandarins and lemon. Great length; this is still very alive. No rush to drink all your magnums!