What did you do on Monday?
Instead of my usual routine (dragging myself out of bed, pouring a cup of strong tea, and grudgingly getting to work) this past Monday started out with a bang. I woke up before my alarm, excitedly anticipating the day ahead: I was attending the first VinoSummit at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida.
The brainchild of Alessandra Esteves and Guilherme Macedo, co-founders of the Florida Wine Academy, VinoSummit was intended to bring a serious wine education conference to Miami. While nationwide events such as Great Wines of Italy make stops here, Alessandra wanted to create something that was unique to Miami; something that would draw wine professionals from all segments of the industry as well as serious wine enthusiasts to participate in two or three days of focused wine tasting, panel discussions, and even certification classes.
While VinoSummit 2019 was a one-day event, that’s Alessandra’s plan for the next few years, expanding VinoSummit to several days of world-class seminars that will attract participants from all over the country. Think TexSom in the Magic City. After Monday’s inaugural session, I’d say she’s off to a brilliant start.
This is the first of three posts detailing the various sessions I attended on Monday.
The Venue: The Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables
This might be the most beautiful spot in Miami: a Venetian palazzo with a stunning Moorish tower reflecting the sunlight in a glorious shade of gold. In reality, the hotel is a mash-up of styles as envisioned by developer (and founder of the University of Miami) George Merrick, paying homage to the Mediterranean structures he admired. The Biltmore opened as a country club in 1926, hosting European royalty and American tycoons who flocked to Coral Gables to play golf and listen to jazz music.
But the resort is more than just a pretty face: the Biltmore boasts a first-rate conference center, separate from the hotel. The formal meeting rooms are arranged theater-style, with tiers of comfortable seating; each chair offers a perfect view of the stage. Although the VinoSummit sessions were full, the rooms never felt crowded. There was ample space for a full set of tasting glasses (including water pitcher and spittoon) as well as a notebook and phone (for photos.) Great venue, in my opinion.
Passport to Reims: Tasting the Wines of Champagne Charles Heidsieck
Our first seminar started off with a snag – the presenter did not arrive in time. Lucky for us, Raffaelle Benassi (Director of European Business Development for Breakthru Beverage Florida) and Drew Flanigan (Regional Sales Director, Southern Region, and Partner of Folio Fine Wine Partners) stepped in. What followed was an entertaining, engaging, and educational trip through the crayères (cellars) of Champagne Charles Heidsieck.
In 1851, Charles Heidsieck founded his eponymous Champagne house, building on a family tradition of winemaking in Reims. Realizing the potential of the United States market, he relocated there, implementing his plan to make people fall in love with Champagne. His goal was to quench the thirst of the upper classes, from New York City to the deep south. As was said about Heidsieck at the time, “The man of taste did not lack for ambition.”
Heidsieck became a fixture in American society, a man much in demand at parties and other social events. Over time he became synonymous with his golden, sparkling product, and the Americans fondly nicknamed him Champagne Charlie, even writing a song about him.
Many years later, in homage to its founder, Champagne Charles Heidsieck created the Champagne Charlie cuvée. The wines, designated in 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1985, were intended as a tribute to the audacity of its founder. Alas, they are no longer available; perhaps there will be another vintage soon?
Production note: all Charles Heidsieck Champagne bottles show the disgorgement date on the label. Important to know if you’re determining a wine’s optimal drinking window.
Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV
A classic blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Meunier, this wine also comprises 60% current vintages and 40% reserve wines. It spent four years on the lees. According to the presenters, this non-vintage Champagne is regarded in the marketplace as a luxury wine in the category (meaning you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck here.)
On the nose there is lots of sweet citrus fruit, some just-ripe green apples, and a distinctive floral note. The palate showcases lemon and apple flavors highlighted by a doughy-biscuit note that’s a testament to the long aging on the lees. The finish is long, with lingering notes of toast and orchard fruit.
2005 Charles Heidsieck Vintage Blanc
A blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, this wine rested on the spent lees for 11 years. Years! As you might expect, that has had a noticeable effect on the aromas and flavors: the nose is all toast – like a slice of white bread fresh from the toaster. The fruit aromas are shy, mostly dried apple and pear. On the palate the fruit is more evident: dried apple and pear, lemon peel, and a hint of biscuit. The long finish is a competition between the dried fruit and yeasty notes. And the winner is? Me!
Charles Heidsieck Rosé Reserve Brut NV
This wine is unusual in how it is blended: rather than creating a still rosé wine that then undergoes the secondary fermentation to create the bubbles, a white sparkling wine was made, as a base. Eight percent still, red Pinot Noir wine was then blended into it. It’s a lively wine, with bright red fruit and some savory notes on the nose; the palate is full of crisp red berries and citrus. The long finish brings back the savory notes of the nose, along with a nice interplay of berry fruit and citrus.
2006 Charles Heidsieck Vintage Rosé
This Champagne house releases wines when they show their best, when they are ready to drink, regardless of the vintage. Case in point: this 2006 was released before the 2005 vintage. And boy, is it a delight! On the nose there is a little burnt sugar and a saline note mixing with ripe cherry-berry fruit. A sip confirms the nose, with a wide range of red fruit – pomegranate, cranberry, cherry. It’s a very rich wine but with enough acidity to counterbalance it. My notes say, “Super-delish!” That’s all I need to know.
Charles Heidsieck Blanc de Blancs NV
Not much of the Blanc de Blancs production makes it out of France, and that’s a pity for us Americans, as this 100% Chardonnay sparkler would make an outstanding dinner companion with just about anything you’d care to serve. Aromas of ripe apple and pear mingle with notes of sourdough bread and a hint of herbs. The palate is less overtly fruity, with more of the yeasty flavors at the front. On the finish there’s an intriguing bitter-almond note that I find appealing.
Interesting note on all the Heidsieck Blanc de Blancs: grapes come from a vineyard called Les Enfants (The Children) so named for the children who historically harvested the grapes. With the vines planted on slopes as steep as 45 degrees, children were the only ones small and sure-footed enough to work them.
2004 Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires
Unveiled for the first time in 1993 with the 1983 vintage, Blanc des Millénaires was a celebration of Blanc de Blancs Champagne and of Charles Heidsieck’s ability to craft the best of them. To date, this cuvée has been issued only in 1985, 1990, 1995, and 2004. Made from 100% Chardonnay grown in the best crus of the Côte des Blancs: Oger for body and structure; Mesnil-sur-Oger for balance; Avize for minerality; Cramant for complexity; and Vertus for freshness and florality.
On the nose there are aromas of mushroom, caramel, and dried orchard fruit. The palate is a nice balance between acidity and creamy texture, with flavors of bitter almond, dried lemon peel, and toast. The sensation is at once unctuous and razor-sharp. I really wish I’d had more time to contemplate (and drink more of) this wine. It seemed like our conversation was just getting started, and the wine had so much more to say!
1995 Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires
If the 2004 seemed luxurious, the 1995 upped the ante – a lot! Aromas were similar to the 2004: toast, dried fruit, and citrus. But the palate was more savory, with lots of croissant-brioche richness. The fruit reminded me of a perfect lemon curd, with that yin-yang tension between tart sweetness and creamy lusciousness. The bubbles were tiny, creating a sensation on the tongue of a micro-thin, super-sharp razor that refreshed the palate and got me ready for another sip. I was imagining a savory bread pudding with this wine. Or maybe, just maybe, nothing at all.
What a Way to Do Monday!
I’ve never had the chance to taste such a range of aged Champagnes. It was illuminating to try two vintages of the Blanc des Millénaires, noting the similarities and differences as well as my own preferences. It was also a fantastic way to kick off the week. I wish more Mondays started this way!
Big thanks to VinoSummit 2019, Florida Wine Academy and Champagne Charles Heidsieck for the opportunity to taste and learn about these exceptional wines.
Coming Up Next: #VinoSummit Part 2: Discovering Biodynamic Winemaking in the Languedoc with Gérard Bertrand.