The chefs de cave of sibling Champagne houses Charles Heidsieck (tastings) and Piper-Heidsieck (tastings) have both toured Australia in recent months, flying the flags for their respective marques. I’ve always been a fan of Charles Heidsieck: I love its rich, complex, mellow style, the result of long ageing on tirage and extra-generous helpings of reserve wines in the non-vintage Brut Reserve (tasting).
And I also admire the Piper wines – for different reasons. The Brut NV (tasting) is arguably the best value for money around at the present time: it’s a very good wine in a lighter, younger style than Charles, and you can buy it for under $40 by the six-pack at Vintage Cellars – terrific value.
As well, Piper’s deluxe cuvée – Rare vintage – is a great wine by any standards. Chef de cave Régis Camus showed off the current release 2002 (tasting), from an exceptional year, as well as a magnum of 1998 (tasting) and a bottle of 1988 (tasting – produced without malolactic fermentation, which Piper didn’t introduce till 1990). At almost 18 years, the 1998 was a magnificent wine, but the ’02 is undoubtedly in the same class. Régis also let slip that a 2007 Rare Rosé will be coming out in the next few months.
Back to Charles Heidsieck, and its new cellarmaster, Cyril Brun, who joined the company in May 2015 following the sudden, premature death of Thierry Roset.
Régus Camus himself was previously the boss at both Charles and Piper, so there is continuity.
Cyril Brun is Champenois born and bred, from a family of vignerons in Ay. He studied in Reims and worked at Chateau Haut Brion, then in California, did an MBA and came back to France to work for his family, then for a German wine group and then for Veuve Clicquot (tastings) and finally Charles Heidsieck.
He was candid in his remarks about the company’s business plan. Charles’s sales tumbled while it was under the Rémy Cointreau ownership in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. While sales declined, grape intake was maintained, with the result that stocks of reserve wines grew.
“I am very confident we can grow sales without loss of quality or age in the wines,” Cyril said. “We will be happy to double our sales in the next 10 years. That is not so much: in the mid-‘80s we were bigger than Veuve Clicquot.”
One of my favourite Champagnes is Charles Heidsieck’s Blanc des Millenaires 1995 (a blanc de blancs based on Le Mesnil – tasting), which has been on sale for at least eight years and with each disgorgement keeps getting better and better. It represents the spirit of another great, late winemaker, Daniel Thibault, who preceded Régis Camus at Charles. Thibault is credited with re-casting the house styles of the two Heidsiecks.
He recognised the quality of the 1995 vintage (the best year of the nineties, says Cyril) and made much more Blanc de Millenaires than he was supposed to. Hence it is still available. But there is no hurry to sell it, as the wine is still improving.
Cyril believes the best disgorgement is the latest, as he prefers to have some of the freshness (he uses the word ‘greenness’) of a newly disgorged wine. At the same time it has the complexity of long tirage time, as well as the minimum of 12 months on cork post-disgorgement, which is mandatory at Charles. The bottle was tasted recently was disgorged at the end of 2014, and a greater bottle would be hard to imagine. A fitting legacy for Daniel Thibault.