It is not easy for Vintage Champagnes in Germany. In terms of volume, they accounted for only 0.8 per cent of Champagne sales in this country in 2022. Among the top 5 export nations (besides us, the USA, Japan, Great Britain and Italy), we have been in last place for years. Moreover, Champagne Charles Heidsieck is famous for its vintageless Brut Premier, the quality of which owes itself to a high percentage of teserve wines. All the more credit to the Maison and its German importer Eggerssohn for presenting the new 2013 vintage in conjunction with a master class. For this purpose, export manager Maxime Watelet had travelled to Hamburg with the last four vintages that the house filled separately: 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2013.
The approach of the master class was already exciting because the Vintage Champagnes at Charles Heidsieck actually always follow the same recipe. First of all, they are always an assemblage of 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay. For the Millésimes Blancs, only Premier and Grand Crus from the Montagne de Reims and the Côte de Blancs are used. As a rule, ten communes are selected, all of them classics. The origins of the last four Millésimés were Aÿ, Verzy, Tauxières, Avenay, Rilly, Ludes, Louvois, Ambonnais as well as Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Vertus, Oger, Chouilly and Cuis. The vinification is also mostly identical. 100 per cent steel tank, malolactic fermentation is carried out and the yeast storage lasts longer than average. These quite homogeneous initial conditions should be able to provide information on the extent to which the respective vintages had an impact on the quality and storage potential of the different cuvées.
The tasting starts with the 2006 vintage, which followed a cold winter, a dry and cool spring, a hot and humid summer and finally a warm and dry harvest. The result was a high yield with low acidity. Today, the Champagne tastes very hedonistic. Some ripe red fruits like raspberry, plus nougat and brioche on the nose. Creamy on the palate with soft acidity, little perlage, a lot of umami and quite high dosage. Here it is above all the phenolic that gives tension. Very hedonistic and certainly at a peak at the moment, 92 points. 2012 also saw a very cold winter and a harvest with high temperatures, but the spring was warm and the summer brought a lot of rain. The yield compared to 2006 was only half, with much higher acidity. This results in a completely different style: a brighter aroma on the nose, leaner and more focused. Yellow stone fruits dominate, along with toasted aromas. On the palate, the Champagne seems tighter and longer. 93 points.
In the newly presented 2013 vintage, the vegetation process resembled a rollercoaster ride. A very cold winter, heavy rain in spring, a hot summer and heavy rainfall late in the harvest in October. This resulted in an average harvest, but an unusually strong aroma profile characterised by salt and lime, with high phenolics. The Champagne, which was disgorged in January, was initially restrained and only gradually developed its richness. Still very yeasty, it is also dominated by yellow fruits, while in the mouth fine, sweet bitter notes demand a meal to accompany it. 93 points. 2008 saw a more balanced year with a milder winter, a rather cool spring, but a very harmonious harvest. The grapes are very ripe, but with a high acidity like in 1996. In any case, Charles Heidsieck’s Vintage is of enormous intensity: with a lot of tension, yet balanced, complex and with great length. In addition, there is this saltiness, which is the criterion of great Champagnes. 96 points.
Apart from the personal tasting notes, it is particularly interesting what insight Charles Heidsieck itself has drawn from an analysis of the different starting conditions of their last four vintage Champagnes. Thus, the Maison notes three main trends: 1. Very cold winters benefit the vines as they can rest and prepare for upcoming difficult seasons. 2. The proverb “Août fait le moût” (August makes the must) remains valid, especially the last 10 days before the harvest. 3. In Champagne, there seems to be no link between quality and quality (neither in sugar content nor in acidity). What is also certain are the two effects of climate change: lower acidity (with the exception of a few exceptional vintages) and a richer, less classic style, with Champagnes reaching drinking maturity earlier.
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