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One of the great Champagne houses, whose 2006 is a glorious wine to open and savour now. This pinot-dominant blend spent over a decade maturing in the house’s cellars and has now emerged as an intricate, rich and impeccably balanced Champagne. Green apple, lemon, plum, brioche and toast describe some of the complex flavours here.
Product Code: CH3791
View all products by Charles Heidsieck
By the time Charles Heidsieck was born in 1822, his uncle was already running his own Champagne house, Piper-Heidsieck, having moved to Champagne from Germany in the late 18th century and married into the Piper family. Charles grew up in the vineyards and gained experience at his uncle’s business, but his ambitious winemaking philosophy led him to found his own Champagne house in Reims in 1851.The following year, he made the daring move of abandoning the Champagne-loving countries of Europe and testing the waters in the USA, where he was one of the first to introduce Champagne successfully. His vivacious personality earned him a great popularity and he famously became known as ‘Champagne Charlie’. After an eventful few years – during which time he was imprisoned in Louisiana on suspicion of being a spy during the Civil War, and was eventually freed by President Lincoln himself – he returned to settle in Champagne. What separated Charles from many of his peers was that he always viewed himself as a blender rather than a grower: instead of buying many hectares of vines, he only invested in a few of his own, and began sourcing the rest of his grapes from a trusted selection of grower families, who had spent generations perfecting the care of their vines. The company now has 60 separate sites to choose from, encompassing a variety of different crus, and some of these plots are cultivated by the fourth or fifth generation of the same family.Instead of vineyards, Charles invested in 47 underground chalk cellars dating back to the 11th century, and these are still where the wines are blended and aged. The current cellarmaster is Thierry Roset, who has worked at the property since the 1980s, and continues the impressive legacy previously set by the award-winning Daniel Thibault.The non-vintage Champagne is made with painstaking attention to detail. 60% of the blend is wine vinified that year (using an equal split of the three main Champagne grapes; chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier) and the remaining 40% is a blend of reserve wines – a mixture of chardonnay and pinot noir ranging from between five and 20 years old. There are over 400 to choose from – more than most other Champagne houses – and once the team has decided on the blend, the wine is aged for a minimum of 3 years. This process is actually much more complicated than the production of their vintage Champagne, although this is still selected from 60 separate possible crus, achieving a majestic complexity. The vintage champagnes are aged for three to ten years before release, and can of course age comfortably for many years thereafter.Since 2011 the company has been owned by the Descours family – a very positive move, ensuring the company remains family run with a long-term vision for the future.
Vintage cuvées often represent the very best Champagnes made by a house or grower. In theory, Champagne producers may declare a vintage in any year they please. Occasionally a house or grower will declare a vintage that seems out of step with the majority of producers if they feel that the performance of their particular vineyard(s) warrant it in any year.Generally, however, vintage Champagnes are only made in exceptional vintages.In contrast with the NV (non-vintage) wines, which are blended to maintain a house style, producers want their vintage Champagnes to display the quality and character of that one year's harvest. Vintage Champagnes always benefit from cellaring, and develop beautifully for those with the patience to leave them. They can be drunk upon release, but the vast majority will improve immeasurably with age. Champagne is made from chardonnay, pinot noir or pinot meunier grapes (there are one or two other permitted varieties but these are very rare) grown on chalky hillsides within a strictly demarcated region centred on the twin towns of Reims and Epernay, some 90 miles east of Paris. After hand harvesting, each grape variety is vinified separately, and in the following spring, the wines are blended unless a blancs de blancs is to made in which case any blending will be from parcels of chardonnay that were vinified separately. Yeast and sugar are added, and the wine is bottled for its second fermentation which creates the bubbles, or mousse. The yeast feeds on the sugars, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide, which, with nowhere else to go in the sealed bottle, dissolves into the wine. Vintage Champagne must then mature for at least three years compared with a minimum of 15 months for non-vintage. Gradual turning of the bottles, remuage, brings the yeast sediment to the neck of the bottle, which is then frozen to allow the yeast pellet to be cleanly ejected (dégorgement). In some Champagnes the dégorgement is delayed, sometimes for years, to increase the depth and complexity of the flavours through more time spent on the lees. After topping up (dosage) with a little more wine and sugar (known as liqueur d'expédition), the bottle is sealed. What marks the ‘Champagne’ method from other sparkling wines is the fact that this complex and gradual maturation process, along with the second fermentation, takes place in the same bottle as the wine is sold.
2006 was a very good vintage for the chardonnay grape so expect to see some lovely blanc de blancs now and in the future, and as bright acidity balances lovely fruit in the best-made wines generally.
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