The Story and Champagnes of Charles Heidsieck
Charles Heidsieck – The Man & Legacy
Born 1822, Charles Camille Heidsieck was the great-nephew of Florens-Louis Heidsieck, co-founder of the Champagne house that eventually became Piper-Heidsieck.
Charles is credited with popularizing Champagne in the United States and was known as "Champagne Charlie" during his stay.
At the young age of 29 Charles Heidsieck founded his namesake Champagne house in Reims, France in 1851. His entrepreneurial spirit lead him to head for New York City the following year to market and grow his brand in the United States. Having been credited for starting the Champagne revolution in the United States, he was aptly named Champagne Charlie. Charles Heidsieck was handsome, charming and eloquent. He was admired by the media and his life was made into a Hollywood movie “Champagne Charlie” starring Hugh Grant. It was an epic movie of his life as an entrepreneur and his journey to bring Champagne to the New World.
Being obsessed with quality, Charles created his own winery as he wanted to raise bar for Champagne. He wanted longer aging for more complexity and depth. His goal was to create a Champagne that was more wine based versus just bubbles. Charles Heidsieck wanted to create Champagne that had structure, body, length, power, and complexity.
What Makes Charles Heidsieck Unique?
With importance placed on quality, Charles Heidsieck purchased crayères (chalk cellars) dating back to the 2nd century. There are only four other Champagne houses to boast this system. There are forty-seven chalk cellars, 65 feet underground. The crayères provide consistent temperature controls of 50°Farenheit, which allow for long-term aging of the wines. In 2015 the crayères were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Charles Heidsieck wines are a blend of 40% reserve wines with one-third of each varietal in non-vintage cuvees. Each cru and each varietal is vinified separately. It is Charles Heidsieck’s tradition to age their Non Vintage Champagnes for a minimum of three years, a level that is significantly above the minimum requirement of fifteen months. It is this constant attention to detail that create wines that are complex with structured.
Cyril Brun – Chef de Caves
Fast forward to 2015, Cyril Brun is appointed “Chef de Caves”, cellar master for Champagne Charles Heidsieck. I had the opportunity to have dinner with Cyril Brun, and found him to be an immense resource on anything and all things Champagne. Running the helm of Charles Heidsieck, Cyril has worked with many bigger brands in Champagne and has a 360° view of what Champagne is all about, where they have been, and where they are going.
Cyril’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather were winemakers, and his great-great-grandfather was a cooper and winemaker. Cyril was raised in Champagne with a family of growers and winemakers and he spent most of his childhood growing up amongst the vines. He later went on to study oenology and business at University of Reims.
Charlie’s style of Champagne is elegant and indulgent. The wines are complex and balanced, and there is great care given to every detail of the Champagne making process from the vineyards to the cellar. Many of the wines are put away and patiently held for their reserve wines. Their Brut reserve wine has a large portion of reserve wines (up to 40%) with an average of 10 years of aging, making the wines of Charles Heidsieck exception and of the highest quality.
Brut Reserve NV
The Brut Réserve boasts a deep golden hue.
Delicate, vivacious and long-lasting bubbles are the result of a long, slow maturing process in chalk cellars. Thanks to 40% of reserve wines, the blend offers a complex, elegant, voluptuous nose with a touch of freshly baked brioche, rich toasted notes and sun-drenched fruits - mango, apricot and mirabelle plum - accented by dried fruits, pistachio and almond. The texture is reminiscent of a crisp layer of nougatine on a velvety cream pastry, filled with plump red plums and ripe cherries. The selection of reserve wines gives the wine lushness. The finish unveils notes of praline and vanilla.
60: the number of crus gone into the blend that is precise, stringent and tailor-made. The wines produced that year, a third for each varietal are vinified by cru, varietal by varietal in stainless steel vat. A high proportion of 40% of reserve wines divided equally between Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, to ensure the fine complexity and indulgence of the Brut Rểserve. The average age of reserve wines is 10 years, an exception in Champagne. Taken from the best crus from the best years, the wines placed in reserve are kept in vats between 5 to 15 years, if not more , to develop finesse and their aromatic range.
A sophisticated powdery pink robe with luminous glints of wild rose. Delicate, vivacious bubbles are the result of an ageing period of over 48 months. The subtle, yet complex nose reveals initial fragrances of home-made strawberry jam mixed with the fruitiness of vineyard peaches. Warm velvety notes of gingerbread. The deep powerful mouthfeel offers a burst of strawberry, raspberry and blackberry nestled in velvety whipped cream.
80% of the year’s wines are composed of equal portions of Meunier, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, while the 20% of reserve wines are made up of 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay. Each are vinified cru by cru, varietal by varietal, in stainless steel vats. To ensure the ideal balance of freshness and elegance on one hand and structure and complexity on the other, the Cellar Master bides by a House principle, intentionally selecting reserve wines that are younger than those of the Brut Réserve. The red reserve wines, from the leading Pinot Noir terroirs, date from up to 5 years before the last harvest. 5 to 6% of wines vinified in red provide tannins and the fragrance of red fruits, a base upon which the Cellar Master will subtly develop a full-bodied, voluptuous rosé.
Charles Heidsieck was one of the very first Champagne Houses to demonstrate its passion for Chardonnay by producing a Blanc de Blancs in its 1949 vintage. There is also evidence that the Maison had produced some mono-crus from the Côte des Blancs as early as 1906... Through this cuvée, relaunched in 2018, two of the House’s areas of expertise come together: the production of great white wines and the art of blending a large selection of wines from different years and terroirs. The considerable challenge is to make opposites coexist: the tautness and the freshness of young chardonnays on the one hand, and the silky “Charles” character on the other.
Pale, crystalline gold with typical glints of the Chardonnay varietal. The aromas of mature Chardonnay can be recognised initially: white peach, candied citrus with notes of lime, honeysuckle and fresh hazelnut, giving way to subtle hints of tangerine and lemon. Freshness and tautness mark this typically Charles generosity; the attack is pure and forthright, not aggressive but almost unconventionally sauve for a Blanc de Blanc, so often en characterised as sharp rather than creamy. The harmonious finish offers surprising minerality and a slight salinity.
Blanc De Millénaires Brut 2004
FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 1993, Charles Heidsieck offered the Blanc des Millénaires in its prestigious 1983 vintage. It is period in which the desire to create a style and the expertise in producing Blanc de blancs champagnes was at its height (the oldest being from 1949). Since then, the House has only unveiled three vintages from its highly lauded Blanc de Blancs: 1985, 1990, 1995 and 2004.
Only Chardonnay is used in the blend of this exceptionally textured cuvée. From amongst the fabulous range offered by the Champagne region, 5 major Crus from the Côte des Blancs have been meticulously chosen for their ability to evolve as well as for their ability to express their full richness once fully mature: Oger for its unctuousness and structure, Mesnil-sur-Oger for balance, Avize for its minerality, Cramant for its complexity and Vertus for its freshness and floral notes.
A shimmering golden robe highlighted by delicate effervescence. Elegant notes of lemon, apple blossoms, salted butter and almonds along with a toasted, buttery nuance of crème anglaise. An initial palate of fresh citrus gives the wine a taut crispness, followed by a gradually persistent force and intensity. The mouthfeel is dynamic and perfectly structured with a long and well-rounded finish. The Blanc des Millénaires style far surpasses the 2004 vintage. The rich texture is rooted in a vintage still young and taut: the refined elegant effervescence reveals a still juvenile minerality.
A Champagne House You Must Get Know
The above Champagnes were just some of the highlights from the incredible line up of wines we tasted. It was a unique opportunity to taste through the portfolio of Charles Heidsieck’s wonderful range of champagne from a house that is historic but smaller in production. It is not a brand that you hear a lot about, but a brand you should know when it comes to high quality premium Champagne.
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