In 1851, 29-year-old Charles-Camille Heidsieck founded his legendary Champagne house in Reims, France. A scant year later, he crossed the seas and developed an enthusiastic audience among the society folk in America, where his ebullient personality earned him the soubriquet “Champagne Charlie.”
Charlie’s fortunes soared as his wines received recognition both here and abroad, since his gift for marketing was only equaled by his devotion to fine wine-making: The house of Charles Heidsieck has won a raft of trophies, gold medals, and awards for its vintage and non-vintage Champagnes, and is one of the 24 "Grandes Marques" — most important brands — of Champagne, along with such producers as Krug, Bollinger and Moët et Chandon.
Today, the house has passed from 125 years of Heidsieck family stewardship (each successor proudly bearing the name Charles), until finally finding its place under the umbrella of Société Européenne de Participations Industrielles, or EPI, a family-owned group that owns a number of luxury clothing brands (and that also purchased Piper-Heidsieck Champagne).
One thing has remained unchanged: The house of Charles Heidsieck continues to produce excellent Champagnes. The secret to these non-vintage beauties is in the blend — 20 to 40 percent reserve wines are blended into new ones to create the complex, layered Champagnes for which the house is justly famous. The wines are then aged for a minimum of three years in the winery’s unique chalk cellars, called crayères, which maintain a perfect temperature of 50 degrees F. The resulting Champagnes are well worth the wait.
Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV ($65)
This is a classic, beautifully made Champagne, rich gold in the glass with a lively mousse. The aroma is a heady mélange of fruit and toasty yeast, and the nose refines with lush fruit, apricot, almond, hazelnut, and brioche, all replicated on the palate. The wine is almost silky despite the lively bubbles, and glimmers of vanilla and spice — a bit of ginger — emerge, then disappear under fruit and toasty notes, only to re-emerge later during the long, complex finish. I’d happily drink this before, during, and after the Fourth’s festivities, with a thankful salute to the brave French heroes who supported our Revolution.
Champagne Charles Heidsieck Rosé Réserve NV ($80)
This is one gorgeous wine: A luscious blend of pinot meunier, pinot noir, and chardonnay, it is a very pretty petal-pink in the glass (future brides as well as Fourth of July celebrants take note), with an astonishing array of flavors evanescing and reasserting themselves in the nose and on the palate: raspberries, strawberries, red currents, lightly toasted brioche, spice, and Meyer lemon zest emerge and retreat in subtle layers. The reserve wines — 20 percent Rosé Réserve blend (equal parts of chardonnay and pinot noir) are younger than those used in the Brut Réserve, resulting in a fresher, more delicate Champagne. But this wine’s freshness in no way belies its complexity, and the persistent mousse, well-balanced fruit and acidity, creamy texture, soft tannins, and moderately long finish are a testament to the Heidsieck winemaker’s craft. Like a great fireworks show, this Rosé Réserve astonishes and delights.