April 13th, 2022- Meeting Charlie
I was in the Champagne Region for Printemps de Champagne and on this day, I believe I was tasting my 1000th vin clair, and onto some house visits, when I received an urgent messaged from my friend, Dan Rosnov, better known as @champagnespy. “Gina, just confirming that you are coming to Charles Heidsieck this afternoon….”.
I actually had no plans to visit Charles (other than a quick meeting with Sophie Kutton to prep for my June group trip), and was really fighting against the idea of going back- only because I was just there in September, and had new producers on my list to visit.
When he heard my hesitation to confirm, the message was then followed up with, “I’m with Simon Stockton, Uk Ambassador for Charles… You really really really should come because it’s going to very special today with some surprises.. something to remember”.
So.. basically, I was being summoned to the house of Charles, and when a Maison summons you, you go!
So, I made a U-Turn on the D951 and headed straight for Reims.
After Sophie and Max Watelet gave a small group of us the grand tour of the cellars, pulled out a Mis en Cave 1990 en Magnum, and poured the 2007 Blanc des Millénaires, we all sat down comfortably in the pavilion. There was a moment of silence… as if we were waiting for a show to start. The room didn’t actually go dim and the curtains didn’t lift, but there was a quick moment when you just knew something was about to happen.
And so it was… in walks Stephen Leroux, Executive Director of Charles Heidsieck, with a bottle in his hand.
The legendary Champagne Charlie to be exact.. a true unicorn of a champagne.. one of those that only comes around once in a lifetime if you are lucky.. and it was right in front of me. But this one, was not the 1979, 81, 82, 83, or 85- this was a new release.
Amongst a very small group of champagne enthusiasts, I was one of the first 10 people in the world to try the new Champagne Charlie.
Champagne Charlie- The Legend
For those who are not familiar with the man, the legend, and the cuvée, let me tell you quickly about Charlie.
Charles-Camille Heidsieck, was born in 1822, 200 years ago, and 37 years after his grand-uncle founded the Champagne Heidsieck et Cie House. Fast-forward to 29 year old Charles, he was a man ahead of his time, with an ambitious vision to conquer the US market.
Considered an ambassador of Champagne, Charles quickly seduced the New York elite and press with his charm, intellect, ambition, and sophistication. He was given the nickname Champagne Charlie, the name that inspired the iconic cuvée.
"There is a rumour about me, an excitement as they say, that we will greatly benefit from"
Charles Heidsieck in a letter to his wife in 1860.
Charles faced not only acclaim, but hardships too. He went bankrupt and was imprisoned while in the US, but overcame it all with his spirit, intuition and fortitude.
1979- Birth of Champagne Charlie, the cuvée
Champagne Charlie was created as a tribute to Charles-Camille Heidsieck, by the talented chef de cave, Daniel Thibaut.
“A champagne wine worthy of his character”, Champagne Charlie is just as mysterious as the legend himself.
You see, this cuvée has only been produced 5 times (1979, 81, 82, 83, 85) and many people think that it is a vintage champagne, like many other prestige cuvées, but instead of saying ‘vintage or millésime’ on the bottle, it actually says ‘vendange’ meaning harvest, indicating it is a multi-vintage- So in true Charlie style, there are reserves in this wine.
When the company was sold in 1985 to Remi Cointreau, Champagne Charlie was put aside, and the new owners of Charles Heidsieck really didn’t know what to do with it. So, the beloved Charlie, along with many of their wines, laid sleeping in the cellars until the company was bought by the Descours in 2011, giving the house a new opportunity to rise from the cold and dark cellars, and back into the hands of collectors and enthusiasts.
May 17th, 2022- My second encounter with Charlie
In true Champagne Charlie style, the newest cuvée arrives in New York City (ahead of the June launch in the United States). Along with the cuvée, so did Cyril Brun, Chef de Cave of Charles Heidsieck. And…. so did I!
I had the honour of co-hosting a very private dinner for 8 at 63 Clinton, alongside Philippe Andre, US Ambassador for Charles. We opened some amazing bottles, including vintage and large formats of Charles, but the star of the show was Charlie. This very special group were officially the first to taste the new bottling of Champagne Charlie in the United States, one month before everyone else! It was a memorable evening indeed, and one I will never forget!
So… what exactly IS Champagne Charlie?
In both my encounters with Champagne Charlie (April and May), I was never told what the new Charlie actually was, as far as vintage, grapes, crus, etc. When I asked Cyril about Champagne Charlie, he only said “It is a great champagne” and really didn’t give me much more than that. But he did tell me that he had a personal goal when becoming the chef de cave of Charles, to recreate Champagne Charlie, and I can only imagine how he is feeling right now, knowing he has done it, and with such incredible feedback!
The current bottling, publicly released just last week, pays tribute to the original cuvée with a base vintage and reserve wines. This bottling says ‘cellared in 2017’ instead of vendange, meaning this has a base vintage of 2016 (20%) and close to 80% reserve wines aged on lees for up to 25 years. The assemblage is 48% Pinot Noir and 52% Chardonnay.
When you taste Champagne Charlie, it is just sooooo Charles. On the nose you get this beautiful freshness, yet there is clearly age, which makes it so seductive, so charming, and unexpectedly expected. So many layers to comprehend, so take your time with it. And on the palate.. well that palate is full of texture.. truly enigmatic with this velvety dance between lifted freshness and a savoury soul.
Champagne Charlie is beautifully idiosyncratic and the champagne world is beyond lucky to have it back! Thank you to the team at Charles for letting me be apart of such a historic launch. I am truly honoured to be apart of your special family.
Welcome back Charlie, and Bravo, Cyril!
June 17th, 2022