Stephen Leroux cuts an unassuming figure in his light green pull-over and chinos as I enter Charles Heidsieck’s tasting room in Reims. He’s Executive Director of the House, engaged in a deep conversation on the phone, looking assertive but relaxed on the lounge.
I mill around, taking in the display of outdoor greenery from within the room’s expansive glass walls. The décor is warm and cosy, modern and clean…not unlike the House’s famed cuvées.
Stephen greets me with a smile and a handshake before getting down to business. There is little chit-chat, rather onto the first pour, Charles Heidsieck’s Rosé Reserve; one based on the 2012 vintage and the other on 2008.
“We like to start with a non-vintage rosé as the amount of reserve wine is twice less – 20% – and reserve wine is five to six years’ old on average,” he says. “In our Brut Reserve non-vintage, it’s the opposite, 40% reserve wine; an average 10 years old which has a massive effect on the body of the wine.”
The 2012 base has been available since October 2017 and has a dainty salmon hue. It’s super-fresh with grapefruit and berry notes, ripe, velvety and creamy. Five percent red wine is added.
We move onto Rosé Reserve based on 2008.
“That’s a reveal!” exclaims Leroux. “I wanted to pour both wines. The 2008 base is ‘old’ for non-vintage, yet it wasn’t that long ago,” he says. “Much of it has to do with the vintage’s quality. In 2008’s case, this one is nearly at the standard of vintage.”
Indeed, the contrast is stark. Savoury notes replace fruity ones and the House’s trademark richness seems amplified. Yet 2008’s prevailing acidity keeps it appearing fresh.
The comparison invites one other to be made; between the past and future of the House. It’s no secret that Charles Heidsieck has been through a series of upheavals in recent decades following its acquisition by Remy Cointreau in 1985. Under this corporate superstructure, Charles – as it’s affectionately known – was gradually relegated to third priority, behind Krug and Piper-Heidsieck, later acquired in 1988. At the time, sales matched those of Veuve Clicquot at four million bottles annually, but plummeted to 250,000 by 2011 when the company was picked-up by luxury goods company, EPI.
The fallout pushed Charles to the brink of annihilation; inflicting severe commercial damage and a hopeless distribution network resulting in an abundance of surplus stock. The latter, however, has proven fortuitous in the company’s resurgence, re-positioning its brand with clear stylistic difference; Charles’ unmistakably rich, complex and textural profile which is especially celebrated across its non-vintage cuvées.
“When it got taken over in 2011, things started to get back on track. Sitting on quite a bit of stock, it has taken us some time to reassess,” says Leroux.
“People have been drinking our non-vintage at seven or eight years; it’s more than people expect from a non-vintage.”
Referring to the 2012 base, Leroux continues, “This is more our true expression of a non-vintage rosé.”
It’s an interesting comment from a man who has orchestrated the House’s resurrection based on the extended ageing benefits of older vintages and reserve wine. Charles’ acclaimed Blanc des Millénaires 1995 is the most exemplary of this, attaining cult status amongst those lucky enough to have tried it.
Read the full story in ISSUE NO. 1 of VINE & BUBBLE Magazine.
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY | Sara Underdown