Charles Heidsieck Blanc Des Millenaires 2004: Long Live The King Of Chardonnay Cuvées
by Ken Gargett
The king is dead. Long live the king.
It has been with us seemingly forever, but finally, the esteemed house of Charles Heidsieck will move on from the 1995 vintage of its stunning prestige cuvée Blanc des Millenaires to the 2004 vintage (AUD$430).
What about all those vintages in between, you ask? Well, these missing vintages are part of what makes this wine so special.
Cyril Brun, chef de cave at Charles Heidsieck and formerly of Veuve Clicquot, was recently in Australia doing the rounds to introduce the faithful and many new fans to both this wine and the beautifully elegant Rosé NV (AUD$160); what is arguably the best non-vintage available on the market, Heidsieck’s Brut NV (AUD$120); the delicious new vintage rosé, the Rosé 2006 (AUD$199); and the latest vintage, the complex 2005 (AUD$189).
As good as all of these wines are, they were merely support acts on this occasion filling in some time before Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band take the stage. In reality, those other wines are all deserving of enormous praise and attention, but prestige cuvées are always the prettiest girls at the party.
The 2004 is only the fifth release of this wine, following on from the inaugural 1983 as well as the 1985, 1990, and the legendary 1995. Some may recall that at one time Charles Heidsieck’s (and forgive me for detailing the full name, but there is also Piper Heidsieck and Heidsieck Monopole) prestige champagne was the famous “Champagne Charlie.”
“Champagne Charlie” was discontinued and Blanc des Millenaires was born, which seemed very curious on several levels. First, “Champagne Charlie” was considered to be very successful with a first-class reputation, so the decision to cease production was odd to say the least. Secondly, “Champagne Charlie” had always been seen as a Pinot Noir House, so moving to a blanc des blancs (100 percent Chardonnay) for the prestige cuvée appeared to be somewhat out of kilter. No matter, though.
The good news is that Brun has reinstated the “Charlie” so we can look forward to two stunning prestige cuvées, although it will take a few years before the first one is available. And Cyril was giving away no secrets as to the vintage.
The reason I mentioned that the missing vintages contributed so much to this latest release is because they show that Charles Heidsieck is a house that will not release any champagne unless it meets the exacting standards. This is not merely marketing guff, as it so often is.
I asked Brun about some of the missing years when we could have expected a Blanc des Millenaires. The most obvious is 1996, at the time considered one of the greatest vintages of all. It is still very highly regarded and has given us many great champagnes, but perhaps the halo has slipped a fraction. Charles Heidsieck did make a 1996 Blanc des Millenaires, but sold it to another producer – which one and what it appeared as: who knows? Brun said it simply did not reach the heights they wanted. He is much more a fan of the 1995 vintage than he is of the following year.
Another of Brun’s favorite years is 1988, which has emerged as one of the region’s truly stupendous vintages in the last three or four decades. This was before Brun’s time so he doesn’t know why there was no Blanc des Millenaires from ’88, but it is a vintage he regards with admiration.
More recently, 2002 would have seemed to have been an ideal year. And this is where the second part of the “policy” comes in. Charles Heidsieck made the decision in the late 1990s that it needed to rebuild its reserve stocks and so no vintage wines of any kind were made from then until the 2004 vintage. This would have resulted in considerable financial sacrifice by the house as there could have been vintage, rosé, and prestige for years like 2000 and 2002. Instead, all these grapes went into the reserve program for use in the non-vintage blends. It will ensure that the stellar quality continues.
The 1995 Blanc des Millenaires is not totally gone – thankfully, for it is drinking exquisitely. A few fine restaurants may still have a bottle or two, and Charles Heidsieck still has some on lees and some under diam (a cork-like stopper, but one designed to hopefully remove the possibility of cork taint). Look forward to them in a decade or so.
Charles Heidsieck was able to offer it as its prestige cuvée for so many years because the chef du cave at the time, the brilliantly talented Daniel Thibault who so sadly passed away in his mid-fifties, recognized the phenomenal quality of the year and made far more of this wine than the company had ever done before. Indeed, it is believed that he made about three times the quantity he told his bosses, knowing what their reaction would be to the prospect of having to sell such an amount. It was an inspired decision.
Over the years, it had three different labels and was disgorged on three separate occasions.
The 2004 is perhaps a whisker short of the brilliance of the 1995 at the moment, but the latter wine has the advantage of so much extra time. Expect the 2004 to be every bit its equal in the years to come. As is usual for this wine, it comes from a combination, around a fifth from each, of four grand cru villages – Cramant, Avize, Oger and Le Mesnil sur Oger – and one premier cru village – Vertus. The aim is “to fully reflect the Côte des Blancs,” the home of these villages and the acknowledged ground zero for great Chardonnay in Champagne. It has spent more than a dozen years on lees and has a dosage of 9 grams/liter. Yields from 2004 were around triple those achieved in 1995.
The wine offers an array of flavors and aromas – gentle toast, lemon butter, quince, a touch of marmalade, grilled cashews, some stone fruits. It is reflecting some early development and is wonderfully complex, finely balanced, and extremely long. It has a wonderful future ahead, though don’t expect it to remain on the shelves for anything like the length of its predecessor.
For more information, please visit www.charlesheidsieck.com/en/blanc-des-millenaires-2004.