An encounter with Charles Heidsieck’s new chef de cave

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I’ve long been a fan of Charles Heidsieck Champagnes (tasting notes), and was interested to meet the new winemaker (or chef de cave), Thierry Roset, when he visited Australia recently.

He was with the director-general for both Charles and Piper Heidsieck, Rob Remnant, who previously worked in Australia for Moet & Chandon (tasting notes).

The occasion was Robert Oatley Wines (tasting notes) being appointed the Australian importer. The Oatley crew, as is their style, threw a massive beach party on Hamilton Island, which they own.

I didn’t think it necessary to fly up for the party, instead meeting the people and tasting the wines at my home in Sydney. They are quite magnificent.

The Brut Reserve (tasting note) is surely one of the very best non-vintages around and has been for years, partly because of the house style, which is rich, mellow and complex, and partly because the percentage of aged reserve wines in the blend is higher than most companies, at 40%. Not only that, but the average age of the reserve wines is eight years. It makes for great drinking.

Above this are the vintage and the flagship blanc de blancs, Blanc de Millenaires – still on the 1995 vintage after three or four years and not getting any less magnificent with bottle-age. This gorgeous golden wine is opulence itself (98 points – tasting note).

The Brut Millesime 2000 is also wonderfully rich and complex (97 pts – tasting note). The Brut Reserve, non-vintage rose and ’99 vintage rose all rated highly for me.

I didn’t taste the Piper wines but they are cast in a completely different mould: fresher, younger, lighter, cheaper and aimed at a younger market.

There has been some market confusion regarding the two brands, and sales of Charles have suffered in recent years. The ill-fated ‘Mis en Cave’ experiment did not help (the Brut Reserve was dated with the year when the wine was placed in the cellar for aging, and many people mistook this to be the vintage year).

The new team’s brief is to rectify the situation. Coles Liquor has the exclusive right to retail Piper Heidsieck, while Oatley will wholesale Charles both on and off-premise (in restaurants and take-away outlets).

No doubt they will chew through a lot of it on Hamilton Island alone.

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