Charles Heidsieck Champagne
I’ve been holding onto this post for a while, as I often get asked in the run up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve what Champagne I’ll be drinking over the festive season. The choice this year might be a little surprising for someone who has dived headfirst of late into the world of RM Champagne and has emerged firmly converted to the cause.
The elegance of a gentleman, the spirit of a dandy…..Masculine and elegant. Forthright and refined. Our champagnes embody Charles Heidsieck wholeheartedly.
So reads the line the on the Charles Heidsieck Champagne website. It also includes the phrases ‘innate audacity’ and ‘elegance and savoir-faire’. Charles Heidsieck sounds like the sort of gentleman who would’ve occasionally indulged in the odd glass of his Champagne over breakfast, so it seemed fitting that a champagne breakfast was organised a couple of months ago by Liberty Wines to celebrate the relaunch of these champagnes in Ireland.
I say relaunch, but in reality Champagne Charlie had never left. Formerly owned by Remy Cognac, the brand had simply become an afterthought in a broad drinks portfolio and so never got the recognition it deserved in Ireland.
Or did it?
Well we know at least, from recently discovered documents, that the patrons of Neary’s pub in 1907 were fans. Presumably it was the post-work drink of choice for the Irish International Fair which took place in Dublin the same year. More recently, it seems that Charles Heidsieck was a closely guarded secret among wine lovers in Ireland – I’ve lost count of the amount of people who’ve struggled to conceal their wry, knowing grins once I started to tell them about my ‘new discovery’.
The house was given a new lease of life when it was bought by EPI in 2011. The Descours family immediately made Charles a priority and sought to rebuild a flagging distribution network. Director of Charles Heidsieck, Stephen Leroux, was in Ireland for this tasting to talk us through the recent changes at the house and to present their current releases.
Charles Heidsieck is currently the smallest of the Grandes Marques Champagne houses. In an era where it has become fashionable to rail against the grandes marques and their relentless brand driven promotions, it’s all to easy to tar them all with the same brush (usually a gold, red or yellow sparkly and heavily discounted brush) and ignore some of the true gems and delicious NVs available.
‘Small’ is relative of course. Stephen shared with us a quite starting revelation that Charles Heidsieck was selling 900,000 bottles per annum in the US during prohibition! Now they are selling less than 500,000 bottles worldwide. Indeed 35 years ago, sales were on a par with Veuve Clicquot. Fewer sales aren’t reflective of diminishing quality however – just a different focus from a house who proudly proclaim that they hate bling!
One of the most significant changes at Charles Heidsieck has been a tweak to the NV wine. The ‘old’ Charles Heidsieck NV was blended from 120 villages and was 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Meunier. Reserve wines, averaging about 8 years of age, made up 40% of the blend. The new style is a similar blend in terms of varieties and percentage of reserve wines, but grapes are now only sourced from 60 villages, thus allowing for a higher percentage from grand crus and premier crus sites in the final blend.
The decision not to bottle a vintage Champagne in 2002 and 2004 has also provided somewhat of a silver lining for the NV – the average age of the reserve wines in the new NV has increased to 10 years and quality has surely also been given a boost given the excellent quality of both harvests.
One for Christmas: Charles Heidsieck Brut NV. Streets ahead of most NV Champagne quite frankly. Initially quite fruit driven, but over time some buttery warmth appears on the nose. There’s a real freshness to this despite the drift toward richer and riper apricot tinged fruit and pastry on the palate. 11.2g/l dosage. RRP: €65
One for New Year’s Eve: Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1995. Right, let’s not beat around the bush. This is gonna cost you. Aged for 15 years prior to release. An incredibly inviting nose with a beautiful depth of chardonnay coming to the fore. Coffee, toast and vanilla cream. There’s a delicious savoury edge and nuttiness here. Finishes long and spicy. Superb. RRP: €170.
Charles Heidsieck Champagne is imported in Ireland and the UK by Liberty Wines.
La Touche Wines
Jus De Vine
Thomas’s of Foxrock
Wine Centre Kilkenny
World Wide Wines
On trade stockists:
Ely Wine Bar, Dublin
The Black Pig, Kinsale
Youtube credit: Blog du Champagne