The William Kent dining room at The Ritz in London – lavishly decorated in Italian Renaissance style – is very much in keeping with the career of Charles Camille Heidsieck. Born in 1822, the founder of Champagne Charles Heidsieck was a natural showman, a globe-trotting bon vivant who would have found the marriage of a new vintage launch and The Ritz’s culinary art irresistible. The original Champagne Charlie, as he was affectionately known, is here today in spirit.
A group has assembled for the launch of the 2008, a vintage which, Leroux claims, has the structure and intensity to last a lifetime. “The 2008 vintage was one of the most remarkable in Champagne,” says Charles Heidsieck’s MD Stephen Leroux. It will be served in addition to the 2005 from magnum, and a rare Jeroboam of the 1989. Meanwhile, culinary duties are being personally handled by executive chef John Williams.
“The 2008 vintage was one of the most remarkable in Champagne,” says Charles Heidsieck’s MD Stephen Leroux
“2008 looked like a disaster for many months,” Leroux says as guests take their seats. “For the greater part of the year we faced an unusually cold spring, a cool and overcast summer – in August my expectations were not high. But then the weather turned late in the season and the fruit started to ripen. Suddenly, we were on course for a vintage that is now hailed as one of the best in a generation.”
The 2005, however, was a controversial release. “It’s never been my favourite vintage,” Champagne expert Michael Edwards said; it’s true that the 2005 served from magnum carries all the hallmarks of that very warm year: vinous and weighty, but perhaps lacking acidity and verve. Yet it sang alongside pan-fried fillet of brill with mussels coated in a rich dill and cream sauce; only a broad, ripe expression of Champagne could have stood up to such punchy, hedonistic flavours.
A generous serving of comté then appears, as waiters pour the 1989. This was the year the Berlin Wall fell and David Dinkens became the first Afro-American to be elected mayor in the United States when he became the 106th Mayor of New York City. It was also when Charles Heidsieck’s late cellar master Daniel Thibaut decided to bottle this superlative vintage in many different bottle formats, to test how they would develop over time. “No single individual has contributed more to the inimitable quality of Charles Heidsieck than Daniel Thibaut,” says Leroux. A luminous green-gold colour, aromas of citrus, saffron and ginger, remarkable length and freshness are my lasting impressions of this fine Champagne.