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Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV Now With a Dash of Oak
For the first time in more than 40 years the blend now contains 6% barrel fermented wine. Charles is believed to have converted to all Stainless steel in the 70’s. This latest release is based on the 2016 harvest, 54% from 2016 and 46% reserve wines. Some of these reserve wines are more than 20 years old and its these old reserves that only used in small amounts add much of the “Charles Character” we all know.
Why The Change?
During the last ten years, Charles Heidsieck sales have steadily grown, a result of the change of ownership when in 2011 Charles was acquired by the French entrepreneur Christopher Descours. He invested heavily in the brand, allowing Charles to buy more land, grapes and expand production and with this new impetus the sales in many markets around the globe started growing fast. When Cyril Brun took over as Chef de Cave in 2015 his early challenge was “how do you maintain growth while maintaining the Charles style.”
Cyril started experimenting with oak, a small amount of barrel fermented wine in a blend adds texture and has a similar effect in the finished champagne to that of older base wines. The main Charles recipe has not changed, 46% reserve wines, the only difference is the base year in the blend is younger than in the past and the “portion of oak” in the blend acts like a “component bridging“ from what used to be older to a younger base vintage. This is not the only change they’ve made with the latest release of the Brut Reserve NV. They are leading the transition to Mytik Diam cork closure in Champagne. This cork is made of 95% processed cork (the rest is acrylate and polyurethane). Diam technological corks do not have discs of natural cork glued to the top and bottom like technical corks but instead are made up of small pieces of granulated cork fused together. Diam treat their corks by extracting the volatile compounds of cork that can harm sparkling wine. Essentially, very hot and intensely pressurised carbon dioxide washes out all of the chemical impurities, including TCA. The cleaned cork is then mixed with microparticles that plug the minute air spaces between the fragments of cork and a binder to hold the cork together.
IT IS WITH BRUT RÉSERVE that the House has expresses the quintessence of its style. Particularly recognisable, this cuvée is the fruit of a unique blend that can be summarised with one equation: 60/40/10.
COMPLEX, PROFOUND AND INDULGENT, the Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve has taken its time and does not care who knows it. The House bottles each give important information on ageing with the specific the year the wine was placed to age in the chalk cellars as well as the year it was disgorged.
Today, all the pieces in the Charles Heidsieck puzzle are finally finding their place. Rémy Cointreau acquired the house of Piper Heidsieck in 1990, and since then a merging of the two houses has taken place. The company is now P&C Heidsieck, with all vinification and cellaring taking place under the same roof by the same qualified hands.
And quite a winery it is. The companies left the crowded ancient cellars in the heart of Reims and moved to more spacious surroundings on the outskirts of the town in 2008. The new ultramodern design winery has all the latest winemaking equipment as well as fantastic touristic facilities.
However, nurturing two brands in one winery evidently poses some problems. At P&C Heidsieck differentiation is managed by separating the house styles and brand images. The flashy-red marketing driven brand Piper’s champagne is fresh, vibrant and easy to drink. The wines for the more restrained and classic Charles are rich and evolved, very much a crafted for the gastronomy.
When I visited the cellar at blending time, I was given an interesting tasting exercise. I sampled a dozen still wines from all three grape varieties and altering villages. My task was to decide whether the base wine should go to Charles of Piper depending on the style. The aspired styles for both houses became crystal-clear to me when I was picking structured wines for extended aging for Charles and lively fruit-forward samples for Piper.
The winemaking hands at P&C Heidsieck belong today to Régis Camus, who took over in 2002, when Daniel Thibault passed away unexpectedly. Fortunately, Camus had worked together with Thibault for years. Consequently, the change has not brought about drops in quality or alterations in style. Even though replacing someone as legendary as Thibault is not easy, Camus has shown his capabilities as a great blender especially via the steadily rising quality of Piper Heidsieck and the numerous trophies earned by Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve and Brut Rosé.
The secret is out. If you have not yet encountered Charles Heidsieck, now is the time to get to know Charlie!
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