‘Charles Heidsieck has been a Sleeping Beauty among Grandes Marques champagnes,’ noted Anthony Hanson MW, when Christie’s announced its historic sale of rare vintages directly from the house’s œnothèque (wine library) where they have been stored, in some cases for more than 50 years.
The sales on 7 December in London and 8-9 December in New York will be the first time that Charles Heidsieck has released an extensive collection from its library to be offered at auction. ‘It is incredibly unusual to have such a range of prestigious vintage champagnes,’ Hanson confirms. ‘These pristine vintages have lain untouched in the house’s cellars since their original bottlings.’
Charles Heidsieck’s Crayères, a series of chalk cellars that date back to the 3rd century, are among the historical sites on UNESCO’s world heritage list. In this labyrinth of 47 galleries some 30 metres underground, the humidity creates a perfect sanctuary in which to leave wines to blossom.
Stephen Leroux, Director of the House of Charles Heidsieck, describes opening the œnothèque to the public as ‘a passionate and powerful act’. As well as offering wine lovers ‘unforgettable experiences’ with these rare vintages, he says ‘distributing such rare bottles in a responsible manner, while ensuring a minimum are available for future generations, is an exercise in balance.’
Charles Heidsieck was the original Champagne Charlie
Charles Heidsieck is famous for its Prestige Cuvées, Champagne Charlie and Blanc des Millénaires, and also for its NV Brut Réserve, which has a high proportion of reserve wines, creating a rich, toasty and complex champagne that many consider to be a rival to Krug Grand Cuvée.
Earlier this year, Christie’s wine specialist Tim Triptree visited Charles Heidsieck’s Crayères. He met with Cyril Brun, who explained how the shape of the cellars has inspired the shape of the bottle for Charles Heidsieck’s Brut Reserve NV.
‘It was fascinating to hear of the importance of reserve wines for Charles Heidsieck,’ says Triptree. ‘Its current release of Brut NV has 40 per cent reserve wines with an average age of 10 years. Reserve wines are kept in order to use in the NV blends to ensure the consistency of quality due to the climatic variations.’
In September, Triptree co-hosted a Charles Heidsieck masterclass with Stephen Leroux in London. They tasted back to the 1981 vintage, which, says the specialist, ‘reaffirmed my view that Charles Heidsieck unquestionably produces some of the finest champagnes.’
‘The 1989 Brut Millésimé in jeroboams is to my mind one of the best large-format champagnes in existence, with perfect provenance’ — Anthony Hanson MW
The December sales feature numerous highlights in what promises to be a treat for connoisseurs of fine champagne. Among them are Cuvée Champagne Charlie 1982 in magnums. Charles Heidsieck Cuvée Champagne Charlie became the name for its prestige Cuvée in 1979 and was only produced in five stunning years (1979, ’81, ’82, ’83 and ’85), which are all included in the auction.
‘The 1982 is a blend of 53 per cent pinot noir and 47 per cent chardonnay,’ Triptree explains. ‘It was disgorged in only a few batches between September 1998 and March 1999, having been bottled in 1983. Magnums are ideal formats for champagne, because they allow the wines to evolve and mature very slowly.’
Cuvée Champagne Charlie 1985 was the last vintage ever produced of this cuvée. A blend of 45 per cent pinot noir and 55 per cent chardonnay, it was bottled in 1986 and spent almost 10 years maturing on the lees before being disgorged in January 1995. ‘This wine was tasted at the masterclass in London and was one of my top scoring champagnes,’ says Triptree, who noted, ‘very intense flavours of citrus and red fruits on the palate, with a delightful creamy texture and fine mousse, and a long persistence of flavour. A truly excellent champagne!’
Brut Millésimé 1989 in jeroboams is another standout offering. This blend of 55 per cent pinot noir and 45 per cent chardonnay was disgorged in December 1995. ‘I tasted this wine in September and it was wonderful,’ reveals the specialist, whose notes record ‘pale lemon colour with very complex aromatics ranging from toast, and mocha, to hints of dried herbs and eucalyptus. Fresh and vibrant on palate and extremely well balanced. Ideal for a Christmas gathering.’
Anthony Hanson, meanwhile, was even more effusive in his praise for the jeroboams of Millésimé 1989: ‘It is an absolutely astonishing wine, to my mind one of the best large-format champagnes in existence, with perfect provenance.’
Admirers of vintage rosé will doubtless be drawn to a series of Rosé Millésimé from the 1980s and 1990s (1983, ’85 and ’96), with estimates from £600 to £1,800 per lot. Charles Heidsieck’s highly awarded blanc de blancs, Blanc des Millénaires, will be available from the 1983, ’85 and ’90 vintages (Blanc des Millénaires 1990, estimate £1,500-£2,000 per 12 bottles), while the historic Cuvée Royale will be available from the 1966, ’75 and ’81 vintages (estimate for the 1966 is £600-£1,000 for 2 bottles; 2 bottles of 1975 is estimated at £400-£800; 12 bottles of the 1981 is estimated at £3,400-£3,600).
‘The offering has depth and breadth,’ confirms Anthony Hanson of the 29 different champagnes being offered. ‘Aficionados of old vintage champagne have the opportunity to acquire legendary bottlings.’