In 2009, Riedel launched the exclusively designed ‘Charles Heidsieck Champagne’ Decanter. Yes a decanter for Champagne. The elegant Lyre (musical instrument), ‘U’ shaped decanter is handmade, mouth-blown and bears a striking resemblance to the ‘Amadeo’ Riedel decanter, though slightly smaller and with a Charles Heidsieck engraved logo. A bottle of the Charles Heidsieck ‘Blanc des Millénaires’ 1995, a complex Champagne, comes with the decanter in a special presentation box - (as shown below).
Its innovative design allows rich Champagne to open and attain a greater level of complexity and expression without losing its effervescence. When pouring a 750ml bottle into the purposely designed decanter the Champagne fills the bottom and slightly up the two sides.
So there is a measured, smaller service area of Champagne for aeration and development. A key detail with the mouth-blown decanter is the perfectly smooth surface, so no imperfections to create, develop and loose bubbles, no nucleation points. Ideally the Champagne should be kept cool (8-10°C) and consumed within 20-30 minutes after decanting.
The difference between the Charles Heidsieck ‘Blanc des Millénaires’ 1995 served from bottle and decanter is astounding. From bottle, it shows perfectly poised creamy flavours and acidity, balance between richness and structure perfectly presented. Also incredibly youthful, for it’s 19-years of age, with minerality coming through with clarity. From the decanter, it is another creature entirely; more mature, richer and showing a complexity from honeyed-cream to brown sugar, grilled peaches and roasted chestnuts. The texture is also different, softer and creamier, almost silky and coats the palate with even more generosity. The decanter takes a great champagne and makes it a memorable one.
After decanting the tactile differences are particularly noticeable - this is also true when comparing more complex Champagnes served from flutes and white wine glasses. The latter tends to amplify richer, deeper, creamier notes and softens the bubbles giving a greater sense of harmony.
Regis Camus the legendary ‘chef-de-cave’ at Piper & Charles Heidsieck, points out tall, slender flutes are better suited to Champagnes in the fruitier, brighter register, whereas aromatic white-wine glasses are better for Champagnes that are, as he said, “plus gastronomique”. I decant to enrich Champagne, not to lose the effervescence or personality.
I’ve always found when enjoying Champagne it is the sharing and the emotions that it generates which are the important elements of the experience of drinking Champagne; the Riedel Champagne Decanter gives drama, theatre and a real wow factor to the experience. Contrary to popular perception - Champagne is first and foremost a wine; too many consider it as some sort of separate category, one where the normal rules of enjoyment (appropriate stemware, temperature, age and pairing it with food) - don’t apply.
Champagne served in a tulip glass or even in the white wine glass are more enjoyable nearly every time, being rounder, fuller, smoother and more aromatic. The glass shape impacts where the wine hits your mouth - with the flute, it hits at the tip of the tongue and with the white wine glass, it hits just behind the tip of the tongue, causing the wine to flow more evenly over your palate, allowing you to get more from it. It is also easier to fit your nose inside a wine glass than a flute and the aroma is often the best part. The next time you serve Champagne at home, you and your guests will be in for a nice surprise.
Decanting Champagne is becoming more common place around the world, as sommeliers have more understanding and confidence in particular champagnes and they have the decanter and time to do it. Knowledgeable wine enthusiasts and top sommeliers first started decanting ‘demi-sec’ Champagne in order to express its sweeter style by reducing the tactile impression of bubbles. Now the practice has spread and is used on fuller, richer more complex style Champagnes.
Decanting can help tame the most aggressive effervescence and soften the mousse of young, quality non-vintage Champagne. Serve a glass of vintage, prestige cuvée Champagne side-by-side with a bottle of the same vintage from one or two years earlier and you will see the advantage time brings in softening the mousse. Decant a bottle bought of the same younger vintage Champagne and the result is somewhere in-between.
Decanting isn’t for all Champagne - and it should not be done in a ‘standard’ wine decanter. Champagne decanters are designed much like a flute. The long narrow neck of the decanter limits bubbles from escaping and a smooth interior surface of the decanter will limit nucleation, the formation of bubbles from the carbon dioxide in the champagne. Decant, pour slowly and at a cool temperature to allow the champagne to retain and express its true self.