Thursday, 10 April 2014

30 Wines in 30 Days - DAY 9

Last night was one of my most enjoyable and educational wine tasting experiences to date.  I attended the Charles Heidsieck Champagne Tasting at Must Wine Bar, hosted by Master of Wine (MW) Ned Goodwin.  The context was the latest release from this renowned Champagne house and their recent success in Fine Champagne Magazine's "100 best Champagnes for 2013". 

My major incentive for attending was to expand my knowledge and understanding of Champagne, as this intriguing wine style is not one that I have often had the opportunity to indulge in.  So, I thought, why not start with some of the best to set myself a benchmark for comparisons.

Charles Heidsieck has a relatively small production in comparison to many of the other Grandes Marques.  Besides discussing the production methodology, strategy and characteristics behind each of the five champages, Ned also described the philosophy of the Charles Heidsieck house and how this sets it apart from other houses in the Union de Maisons de Champagne (UMC):
1. An unsurpassed period of ageing
   (almost one third of their wine is currently held as reserve stock)
2. No use of oak
3. Long periods of lees ageing 
   (to create complexity and autolytic characters)

To save you from a boring garble of wine-speak, I have used the table below to summarise the critical statistics for each Champagne, along with my tasting notes from the evening.


I was very lucky to be seated next to a gentleman who has previously won Australia's coveted Vin de Champagne Award.  This bi-annual award involves accurately answering a series of essay questions and, if selected as a finalist, undertaking an interview and blind tasting before a panel of judges.  I learnt so much about champagne simply by discussing each wine with him after tasting.  He also shared his comparisons with other champagne houses, based upon his extensive knowledge of the region and its wines.  I hope he was not too overwhelmed by my ongoing barrage of questions throughout the evening!

For me, the epiphany for the evening was experiencing autolytic character at its best.  This characteristic defines premium champagnes, being a vital component in both flavour and mouth feel.  When a wine is left for an extended period of time in contact with the lees (dead yeast cells), many chemical reactions take place, resulting in an amazing level of complexity.  Having an appreciation for the distinctive, pungent aromas of lees in wine tanks and barrels after working Vintage 2014, I found it much easier to recognise these characteristics than previously.  So I guess getting covered in lees on a number of occasions over the past few months has paid off!