An evening with Champagne Charlie

Brummell readers experienced a horizontal tasting of Charles Heidsieck Brut Millésime 1989

Food and Drink 21 Feb 2020

Charles Heidsieck Brut Millésime 1989

Charles Heidsieck Brut Millésime 1989

Last night, Brummell co-hosted an exclusive reader event with champagne house Charles Heidsieck to celebrate its recently released 1989 vintage. Charles Heidsieck’s senior brand manager Willem Pinçon led guests through a horizontal tasting to highlight the nuances that emerge in the aromatic profile when a vintage champagne is aged in three different formats – bottle 75cl, magnum 1.5l and jeroboam 3l.

On arrival, guests were welcomed with canapés by the recently launched catering company SalsaRose, and a glass of Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve in magnum, the house’s signature champagne, which contains 40% reserve wines – each aged for an average of 10 years – to achieve the desired balance and complexity.

Once greetings had been exchanged and all were seated comfortably, the horizontal tasting commenced. The first three wines served – all Charles Heidsieck Brut Millésime 1989 – are from a new release of cuvées, from the house’s Crayères Collection. These rare and exceptional vintages have undergone extended ageing on lees, which allows them to develop more complex and unique aromas.

The 1989 vintage is described by the champagne house as ‘vivacious and monumental’ – the result of a mild February followed by April frosts, which disrupted the usual growing cycle and led to an early initial harvest in the first half of September and a second generation of grapes that extended the harvest through to the end of October. It is a blend of 55% pinot noir and 45% chardonnay grapes.

Willem Pinçon led guests through the tasting, starting with the jeroboam format, explaining how size matters when it comes to ageing champagne.

‘Champagne ageing is a complex and elegant process where oxygen, wine and lees interact together to develop intense toasty aromas. The size of the bottle is central to this process: the larger the bottle size, the slower the champagne ages. Consequently, the larger the bottle, the fresher the champagne should taste.’

One of the guests, Jez John, said: ‘I’ve done lots of vertical tastings, but I was skeptical about a horizontal one. I thought it wouldn’t actually be that different and they would all taste the same. But actually I was totally blown away by the difference and I’d be much more open to the concept again. I would never have considered buying a jeroboam before, but I would now. Without a doubt the champagne from the jeroboam tasted the best.’

Another attendee, scientist Jackie Nathanielsz, said: ‘Naturally, I would have thought that the champagne from the bigger format would not be as nice, but once I was taught how to swirl the champagne in the glass properly I could really tell that the jeroboam is amazing. It was really rich with heaps of fruity bouquet flavours, nice and light on the palate and very drinkable. It’s been an amazing night, learning about the different formats, and the history of the champagne house is really fascinating as well.’

Guests learned about the heritage of the house and its eponymous founder, the legendary Charles Camille Heidsieck. He became a famous socialite in America, where he travelled extensively during the mid-19th century to promote his champagne, which led to journalists giving him the nickname ‘Champagne Charlie’.

The event took place at a special venue in Fitzrovia – a boutique belonging to the fashion designer Joshua Kane. The London-based tailoring specialist has formed a close connection to the Charles Heidsieck brand through a shared ethos with the maverick approach of its late founder:

‘Joshua is the modern incarnation of Charles Heidsieck, a true maverick and artist who challenges convention with style, believes in his dreams and creates the most desirable suits,’ said Pinçon

Kane adds: ‘It’s a great story – how he [Charles Heidsieck] saw the world in a slightly different way, and he just set out to make the things he loved in his own style. I approach my tailoring in the same way; it is like a shared spirit. I see everything a little differently compared to other people, and I just create things the way I see it. Some people think my creations are really crazy and some people think they are really wonderful.’

As a special surprise to conclude the event, a magnum of Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve Mis en Cave 1990 was opened, a non-vintage produced by the house in 1990, based on a majority of wines harvested in 1989. This unanticipated nightcap allowed guests to discover how the house’s signature champagne develops after 30 years of ageing, and served as a fitting finale to a delightful and informative evening.