“Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Charles Heidsieck – The Man & Legacy
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.
Charles was the grand-nephew of the founder of Piper Heidsieck. 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. Prior to Charles Heidsieck, Cyril worked for the National Wine Department and then later Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin as their oenologist and director of wine communications.
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.
Blanc de Blanc Brut NV
Charles Heidsieck is one of the few Champagne houses that is passionately dedicated to making Blanc de Blancs. There is evidence that the house has produced mono-crus from the Côte des Blancs as early as 1906. Under Cyril’s lead, the house just released its first Non Vintage Blanc de Blanc. Charles Heidsieck had always produced a vintage Blanc de Blanc with its Blanc de Millénaires, but this is the first NV Blanc de Blanc. The NV Blanc de Blanc sells for $95 which is substantially lower than its Millénaires($225), allowing for broader appeal.
The wine is a blend of 75% of wines of the year(2012) and 25% of reserve wines with an average age of 5 years, with four years aging on the lees. This 100% Chardonnay is taut and full-bodied with aromas of a mature Chardonnay. The Champagne is expressive and has a lively finish. It is aromatic and complex, a signature of Charles Heidsieck wines.
Charles Heidsieck Brut 2005
This impressive Champagne is a composition of eleven crus harvested in 2005, which was an outstanding year. The wine was aged 8 years on lees. The acidity on the wine is quite high, which ensures good balance and potential to age this wine for an extended period. It is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The wine is a deep gold color with lively bubbles. Pronounced blueberries and plum aromas are followed by chestnut and honey. This is an exceptional Champagne that is big and round yet delicate on the palate. A beautiful soft creamy texture fills the mouth with additional notes of almond, vanilla and whip cream.
Blanc De Millénaires Brut 1995
Only Chardonnay is used to produce this Champagne with five crus from the Cote de Blancs. With over 20 years of aging in its chalk crayéres, the bubbles are fine and delicate. The wine is elegant and voluptuous with hazelnut and dried apricot. The wine has an intense creaminess with a graceful round complex finish.
Champagne Charlie Brut 1981
Champagne Charlie was created in the 70’s as demand for high-end Champagne was on the rise. The 1981 Champagne Charlie was an incredible Champagne with deep amber color. On the nose you get mature fruit, and notes of dried apricots and hazelnuts. The wine is indulgent and creamy. There is still wonderful acidity and complexity. This 1981 Champagne Charlie is in perfect balance and has a beautiful creaminess and mouthfeel, with rich layers of toffee and caramel. Definitely one of the most incredible and unique champagnes I have ever tried.
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.