Bubbles Under the Radar

 The Heidsieck Champagnes date back to 1785, when the house was founded by Florens-Louis Heidsieck.Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires 1995 He had three nephews, and the family enterprise began to splinter in the next generation. The widow of one of them married Monsieur Piper in 1838, and Piper-Heidsieck was born. The most famous nephew of all, Charles-Camille (known as “Champagne Charlie”) started his own label in 1851.

Today, the wines for both houses are made by the brilliant Regis Camus, one of the most talented blenders in the region, but the styles are very different. Piper tends to be exemplified by freshness and elegance, along with very ripe and forward fruit. Charles Heidsieck generally produces a Champagne which is richer and deeper. I had a rare opportunity to compare the two recently, when Regis Camus passed through Palm Beach.

The Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve ($45) displayed mouthwatering acidity and delicious flavors of Meyer lemon, apple and pear—Champagne that invites you to take another sip and another glass. The Brut Reserve Rosé ($75), by contrast, was reserved and austere. With flavors of rhubarb and stewed red berries, it was a food wine, a fine match with game dishes or fruit desserts.

On the other side of the family tree, the Piper-Heidsieck Vintage 2004 ($65) was crisp and delicate, with refreshing citrus flavors and pinpoint acidity. The Champagne gained in the glass, with each sip amplifying a core of rich and intense citrus fruit. Even more exceptional was the 2002 version of Piper-Heidsieck Rare ($180), a blend released only in exceptional vintage years. It was beautifully concentrated, with hints of exotic fruits (kiwi, passion fruit), with intense minerality and purity—a great example of what Camus calls Piper’s “chiselled style.”

The star of the show, though, was the extraordinary Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires 1995 ($200), a wine composed of 100% Chardonnay that has been released only four times—1983, 1985, 1990 and 1995. It is rich, ripe and full-bodied, the result of ten years aging on the lees, and reveals succulent flavors of lemon, quince and bitter almond. Unctuous and nuanced, it is the epitomy of the house style.

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