Friday, May 9, 2008

Wine of the Week: Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve

Earlier this week I had the privilege of tasting a number of 2007 vins clairs with Thierry Roset, oenologist for Charles Heidsieck and Piper-Heidsieck. Naturally we broke open some bubbly wines afterwards, and as always I was particularly struck by the quality and character of the Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve.

This has always been one of my favorite NVs among the major houses, thanks to former chef de cave Daniel Thibault, who developed it into a richly complex, reserve-heavy non-vintage wine. In 1997 it was re-branded with a Mis en Cave date indicating the year that it was bottled—a laudable and remarkable gesture of transparency in an industry that is too often overly secretive. Thibault’s successor Régis Camus has kept the Mis en Cave date on the label, moving it to the back, and prints the year of disgorgement as well, which is rare on a négociant brut NV.

The current release is Mis en Cave 2004, meaning that it’s based on the 2003 harvest. Showing rich and harmonious aromas ranging from pear compote and caramelized apple to praline and vanilla, this feels full and expansive, finishing with a subtle complexity and ample fragrance. Roset describes the Charles Heidsieck style as “a balance between complexity and generosity,” an idea that is well illustrated by this wine, and one surprising element here is that its complexity and character could easily make you believe that it’s been fermented or aged in oak, even though it’s made entirely in stainless steel.

Regarding varietal composition, it’s a little bit like a math question on the SAT: the Brut Réserve typically contains 60 percent of wine from the base year’s harvest, composed of equal parts chardonnay, pinot noir and meunier. To this blend, a proportion of reserve wine is added, in equal parts chardonnay and pinot noir, but then a small quantity of the previous year’s base blend is also included, usually about six to ten percent.

The reserve wine is clearly one of the biggest reasons for the Brut Réserve’s high quality. Forty percent of reserve wine is remarkably huge—there aren’t many bruts sans année in Champagne that contain such a high proportion of reserve wine. Even Krug doesn’t typically go that high. In addition, Roset says that the reserves usually include wines between four and eight years old, which is also admirably impressive. Considering all of that, at this price the Brut Réserve must surely be one of the best value champagnes on the market.

Charles Heidsieck is imported into the United States by Rémy Cointreau, USA, in New York, NY, and the suggested retail price for the Brut Réserve is $55.