2012 was an unlikely and surprising success in Champagne, of course, with a chaotic year looking like it was heading for disastrous proportions like 1984. Then came August and the rest is history. Anne Krebiehl MW talks with Heidsieck’s cellar master Cyril Brun about why the house decided to disgorge its new vintage Charles Heidsieck 2012 Brut Millésimé in April 2019, and why they have introduced two new processes with this bottling – the use of Diam’s Mytik cork closures and the practice of jetting. Full tasting notes included.
“We tasted it with a huge smile on our faces. When we tasted 2008 it was a more intellectual smile, with 2012 it was a smile with every part of our body,” Leroux says.
It is always exciting when the Grande Marque that produces probably the best non-vintage brut on the market releases a new vintage. Thus the pre-release “preview” for a handful of press and trade professionals via Zoom on Wednesday morning was a lovely midweek tonic.
“I guess you have had a few 2012s,” Cyril Brun, cellar master at Charles Heidsieck since 2015, suspected correctly.
Brun said the bottles were disgorged in April 2019 because the wine was “entering into a very interesting phase” and re-capped the unlikely and surprising triumph that 2012 became: “2012 was one of the most chaotic years. We had some spring frost, a little winter frost, a lot of rain in the summer, just in the last part of maturation in mid-August we had the most perfect weather, and that is just then we managed to set the quality of 2012. What we get now is a very balanced wine with a very engaging profile of fruit, not as mature as 2006, you still have tension and acidity, and you can really detect there is more potential. I remember that most of the vignerons were expecting a disaster like 1984 and yet nature is totally independent. In the middle of August it offered us the super gift of 2012. But that is the beauty of the job, nature is the boss.”
With 13,500kg/ha the harvest was more generous than expected and relatively late in mid-September.
Brun was joined in the webinar by Stephen Leroux, managing director of Charles Heidsieck. Together they explained the importance of this vintage, a re-assertion in a way of the house, after relatively little of the 2008 and 2009 vintages had been produced due to ownership changes, a reorientation and the world financial crisis, Leroux noted. He said that 80,000 bottles and “a few magnums” of the Brut Millésimé 2012 were made which will be Charles Heidsieck’s vintage on the market for “about three years, depending on the rate of sales.” He also noted that there will be successive disgorgements of the wine.
Brun was quick to emphasise the approachability of the 2012, pitching it between the 2006 and 2008 vintages in style.
“What is the profile of 2012 like?” he asked. “Something between 2008 and 2006 in style. 2006 was very rich and opulent, 2008 was very austere, shy and closed, we are still expecting it to open, yet the 2012 is just in between. It’s quite rich and a true invitation and I think people will love it now, but it will also be able to age for another eight to ten years. I think it’s a kind of summary of the two, of 2006 and 2008.”
Leroux and Brun cracked open their bottle, took a sip and were evidently pleased. Leroux felt compelled to characterise the 2012 vintage thus: “We tasted it with a huge smile on our faces. When we tasted 2008 it was a more intellectual smile, with 2012 it was a smile with every part of our body.”
The 2012 vintage of course was still put together by Brun’s predecessor Thierry Roset. Brun who became cellar master in 2015 was happy to note that “when you join a house like Charles, for the first five to ten years of your career you have to talk about the wines of your predecessors.”
Brun explained that the blend is “very classic for Charles” with 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay sourced only from premiers and grands crus in the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs. He also noted that two things were new with this bottling: the use of Diam’s Mytik cork closures and the practice of jetting. This is the injection of a tiny amount of water, precisely 0.1 microlitres, just before the bottle is resealed after disgorgement. The micro injection causes the wine to bubble up and the resulting foam expels all oxygen still present in the neckspace before the Mytik cork goes in.
“Together with the cork,” Brun said, “this gives us much better protection and we have much more consistency.”
But Brun was not inclined to dwell on technicalities with a wine as delicious as this one on his lips. He put his enjoyment into fitting words and described the Charles Heidsieck style as being “a lot about texture, this creamy, silky profile on the palate, the micro bubbles, the freshness that is unique to Charles. When you have the first drop on the palate you get the Charles footprint, this thick, round creamy touch with really tiny bubbles, you feel the wine is really invading, but it is a gentle invasion, it is a rich mouthful, yet it is not heavy, it does not saturate, you want another glass,” he smiled. “That is why it is very dangerous.”
I for one am more than happy to court this danger since Charles Heidsieck 2012 Brut Millésimé is a wine for our times. Its joyousness, energy and drive; its vivaciousness combined with its undoubted depth of fruit, is the result of a year that started disastrously and had an unlikely and late rescue. Seen this way, it becomes bottled optimism.
Charles Heidsieck 2012 Brut Millésimé, 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, dosage 8g/l, disg. April 2019
Smoke, salted shortbread and apple notes on the nose manage to convey briskness and creaminess at the same time. The palate seems like precision-engineered hedonism with a deep sense of ripe fruit, especially Mirabelle, firmly framed in freshness, totally cleansing yet emollient and always veiled with that brooding yet revealing smokiness. It is this series of contradictions that makes this wine so compelling, so life-like, so very refreshing and comforting, enlivening and soothing at the same time. The smoky, creamy length draws you in. More please.