Charles Heidsieck: Launching pinot noir at Monachyle Mhor

Champagne house Charles Heidsieck chose Monachlye Mhor at Balquidder for the launch of its still red wine, with Peter Ranscombe tagging along for some foraging.

TRAMPLING through the woods near Balquhidder with Tom Lewis and Nick Nairn, it’s easy to see why the two chefs love this part of Scotland so much.

From mushrooms and fruit to herbs and garnishes, the countryside is teaming with potential ingredients for their pots.

That cornucopia of foraged delights caught the eye of Champagne house Charles Heidsieck too.

Best known for making bubbles, the brand has recently revived its range of still wines made in the Champagne region.

In 2019, it released a set of four 2017 Coteaux Champenois Blanc, each made using chardonnay from different villages.

Earlier this month, the label chose Lewis’ Monachyle Mhor hotel for the launch of its 2019 Coteaux Champenois Ambonnay Rouge, a pinot noir from the Ambonnay area within Champagne.

The hotel holds regular foraging events, with dishes often paired with wines over lunch or dinner – keep an eye on its events page for more details of next year’s outings.

In the same way that Lewis makes foraged components the centre of attention in his dishes, the Champagne house wanted to demonstrate how pinot noir stars in its sparkling wines – especially its pink fizz.

Red wine is blended into Charles Heidsieck’s rosĂ© Champagne to endow it with a pink hue.

Champagne has traditionally been a cooler region and so its acidic grapes lent themselves to sparkling winemaking, with only the ripest sites and ripest years lending themselves to rounder still wines.

Just 150 bottles of the Coteaux Champenois Ambonnay Rouge are going on sale in the UK, along with 50 magnums.

What does Charles Heidsieck Coteaux Champenois Ambonnay Rouge taste like?

Even sitting outside under canvas on a cool October day, the pronounced and complex aromas of the 2019 Charles Heidsieck Coteaux Champenois Ambonnay Rouge (ÂŁ85, Cambridge Wine Merchants) were still apparent, ranging from ripe raspberry, blackcurrant, and fruits of the forest yoghurt through to light cedar, spun sugar, and floral notes.

On the palate, it was slightly more restrained, with sweet spun sugar and raspberry jam flavours and an unexpected earthy depth, with grainy tannins.

Willem Pinçon, the outgoing head of prestige brands at distributor Liberty Wines and the face of Charles Heidsieck for many in the drinks industry in Scotland, put the still red wine in context by serving it alongside two rosé Champagnes.

The 2005 Charles Heidsieck RosĂ© MillĂ©sime (ÂŁ105, The Whisky Exchange) was made by blending between 8% and 10% of still red wine into the sparkling wine, double the amount used in the brand’s non-vintage rosĂ©.

The result is a wine full of pronounced toast, biscuit, and spun sugar in amongst the red cherry and cranberry on the nose.

I loved its puckered red apple skin texture, as well as its well-integrated acidity and its concentrated red cherry, cranberry, caramel, and biscuit flavours.

Age has endowed the 1999 Charles Heidsieck Rosé Millésime (£154, The Finest Bubble) with a copper-like colour, yet its acidity is still vivid.

There’s a damp earth note starting to develop in there amid the biscuit, toast, raspberry jam, redcurrant, and spun sugar flavours.

To mark Pinçon’s departure from the UK to return to his native France, two special bottles were also rolled out; the 1985 Charles Heidsieck RosĂ© MillĂ©sime (ÂŁ385 for an archive release, Hanford Wines) was still alive with fresh acidity, balanced by biscuit, caramel, and spun sugar sweetness, and redcurrant and cranberry brightness.

The 1982 Charles Heidsieck Champagne Charlie Brut MillĂ©sime was – it pains me to say for a bottle from my birth year – past it, with oxidised nut, toffee, and honeycomb aromas and flavours dominating over what was left of its red apple fruit and slightly tart acidity.

Yet fans won’t have long to wait to try a different Champagne Charlie bottling – the prestige cuvee was axed in 1985, but Pinçon revealed it will make its return next year.

Read more of Peter’s wine, beer, and spirits reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain