As some of you may know I have been travelling for most of the summer looking for the next place to settle and find my place in the (wine) world. Since I passed the certified sommelier exam in February this year I have been itching to get back into the hospitality trade but never quite knew where to go…
The last few months I had been thinking about going to Champagne. The place somehow felt right and I was toying with the idea to make it my next home. BUT, I just wasn’t sure….
Then just over a month ago I was passing through Champagne again and I had made arrangements to meet my friend Christian Holthausen, the International House Communications Director at Piper Heidsieck. We had met at the Vinocamp Bordeaux in July and I had been really surprised by the quality of the Piper Heidseick NV Champagne… Quite a few years ago I had tried the same Champagne and it had really not impressed me. As it is quite unusual for NV Champagnes to change a lot I was really curious to find out the story behind these wines…
Christian met me at the “Pavillon des Crayeres” in Reims. This Art Nouveau building was once the house of “Charles Heidsieck” and was designed by Alphonse Gosset. It has been closed to to the public since 2007 and is currently used to welcome distributors, VIP’s and the press. Close to the Pavillon is the access to the Crayeres, where ALL the Piper-Heidsieck wines are aged. The Crayeres are more than 2000 years old and were dug out by the Romans who used the chalk to build roads, aquaducts and viaducts. I was lucky enough to taste some excellent champagnes in the beautiful Pavillion and to visit the Crayeres, and it was in the Crayeres whilst sipping on the first ever vintage of the Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires (1983) that I knew for sure that Champagne would be my next home :-) The beauty of the place, it’s history and the wonderful and elegant wines had totally drawn me in!!
Piper-Heidsieck is one of the oldest and most prestigious Champagne houses. It was founded in 1785 by Florian Louis Heidsieck who moved to Champagne from Westphalen in Germany in the 18th century. Champagne Heidsieck was a favourite at Versailles where Marie Antoinette heavily promoted it. When Florian died in 1828, with no direct descendants, the champagne house was split up amongst his 3 nephews. Christian Heidsieck, went into business with Henri-Guillaume Piper, and from 1839 the company was consequently called Piper-Heidsieck. In 1851, Charles the son of a second nephew, Charles Henri, founded Charles Heidsieck – a champagne house known for it’s lengthy aging on the lees and also the first Champagne house to go to the USA. The third nephew Henri-Louis Walbaum and his brother-in-law Auguste Heidsieck went on to found Heidsieck & Co. Monopole. The 3 resulting companies were fierce competitors and only in 1988 when Piper Heidsieck was bought by Remy Martel, who already owned Charles Heidsieck, some unity of the original company was restored. Heidsieck Monopole is still a competitor today as it is owned by the Vranken group.
Quintessential to the vast improvements in quality of the Piper Heidsieck NV Champagne is Régis Camus, who joined the company as assistant cellar master in 1994. With the general focus being on the Charles Heidsieck brand, Régis chose to get more closely involved with Piper-Heidseick and made several changes to improve the quality of this brand. One of the changes was to invest more in the Piper reserve wines which meant that in the excellent Champagne vintages of 1995 and 1996 he decided not to produce a vintage Champagne but rather improve the quality of Piper Heidsieck Non Vintage Champagne. Régis became cellar master at Piper-Heidsieck in 2002, after Daniel Thibault passed away and earlier this year he received his 6th International Wine Challenge “Sparkling Winemaker of the Year” award. Piper Heidsieck is the only large Champagne house with one cellar master for the 2 brands.
Piper-Heidsieck Non Vintage Champagne: Base wine 2007, 20% reserve wines, 30 months aging
Dry with small bubbles, medium weight and flavours of red apple, pear, warm bread and some honey suckle in the finish.
Charles Heidsieck Non Vintage Champagne Base wine 2006, 40% reserve wines (minimum 5 years old), 4 years aging
Dry with elegant bubbles, medium+ weight and flavours of apricot, peach, a little hazelnut, toasted brioche and some buttery notes in the finish.
Champagne Piper Heidsieck 2004 50% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir
Fresh and elegant wine with creamy bubbles, medium+ weight, and flavours of lemon, tangerine and brioche on the middle palate and yellow apple on the lingering finish. I found this wine playful and very morish:-)
Champagne Charles Heidsieck 2000
Dry with small elegant bubbles, medium + weight and rich flavours of tarte tatin, a little carré confiture, some nuts and an amazingly fresh meyer lemon and almost minerally finish.
Piper Heidseick 2002 Rare 70% Chardonnay & 30% Pinot Noir from Grand Cru Villages, 7 years on lease, disgorged June 2010 and released in January 2011.
Fresh nose, with some sandle wood ash and brioche notes. Dry, zesty wine with creamy bubbles, good weight and flavours of ripe apple, pear, a little butter croissant and mineral tones in the lingering finish
Charles Heidsieck 1995 Blanc des Millénaires – 100% Chardonnay from Avize, Cramant, Mesnil-sur-Oger and Oger (all Grand Cru villages), 14 years on lees, disgorged in 2010.
Dry, elegant wine with creamy bubbles, a lovely acidity and rich flavours of ripe meyer lemon, peach, stewed pear, apple turnover, toasted brioche and a lingering mineral finish.
Charles Heidsieck 1983 Blanc des Millénaires -100% Chardonnay, 24 years on lees, disgorged in 2007
Amazingly complex wine, with very small bubbles, great acidity, good weight and flavours of baked pear, red apple bonbon, a little toasted brioche in the middle palate and a smokey, minerally finish. I was blown away by the freshness and the elegance of this wine -27.5 years after bottling….