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Ric visits Champagne Henriot

September 25, 2015

This article kicks off a series of visits by yours truly to various wine producers in Burgundy, made possible only through the auspices of FICOFI, its CEO M. Philippe Capdouze no doubt having a big say in getting the visits organised during this very busy time of the year when harvesting and the initial fermentation processes are all underway, and, of course the venerable Dr S S Ngoi without whom my wine experiences would have been a lot poorer.

Laurent FressnetHowever, prior to Burgundy, in the way of an overture, was a side trip to Maison Henriot, that famous champagne house in Reims, on 24 September 2015. Straight after arriving at Charles de Gaulle aeroport, as the French would say, we drove immediately to Reims, arriving at Maison Henriot couple of hours later, where we were welcome by Beatrice Brossier. Henriot began making champagne back in 1808, perhaps not as long a history as a few other producers but this maison prides itself in producing a much smaller quantity of top drawer wine without aspiring to be a global producer which is simply great for connoisseurs around the world. The trouble is sourcing it. For its champagne blends, Henriot uses only grand cru and premier cru pinot grapes, its pinot noir planted on the northern and southern slopes of Reims while its chardonnay vines are located in the eastern slopes of the Cote de Blanc, where the chalky topsoil is ideal in delivering rich mineralogy to the wines.

We began first with the Henriot Rose NV, a blend of 65% pinot noir and 35% chardonnay that was fresh, lively and fruity with a hint of ripe red fruits and peaches, quite understated in minerality, yielding a wine of remarkable balance and elegance with some mild yeasty pendency coming on later. This was a great start, setting the tone for the rest of the tasting line up. DSC_5531Next, the Henriot Brut Souverain NV displayed mild yeasty overtones, attractively sweet with understated intensity, very well balanced against the chalky creamy minerality, a welcome move away from the usual brazen dryness of most NV Brut. This is an excellent calling card for the estate.

Moving up, the Henriot Blanc de blancs was poured, displaying very lovely gentle citrus with slightly darker undertones, crisp, deep and complex yet easy and approachable and not too dry, drinking well now. Excellent. The 2006 Henriot, made from a 50-50 blend of chardonnay and pinot noir from grand cru and premier cru grapes, was somewhat restrained, its sweet clear citrus sat with a quiet intensity amidst understated yeasty notes. supported by firm minerality, slightly stern in its finish. Again the remarkable balance is striking, the wine developing greater intensity and length over time but this wine needs to be left alone for several more years, at least.

Then comes the special cuvees. The Henriot Enchanteleurs series, made only in exceptional years, is a blend of 50% chardonnay and 50% pinot noir, all from grand cru. The 2000 Henriot Enchanteleurs displayed a wonderful glow of yeast, toast and great complexity of citrus and depth, open, lasting, subtle in minerality and sweetness. Most alluring and elegant. Excellent as that was, the best was yet to come. The winemaker, M. Laurent Fresnet, honoured us with his presence and a visit to the cellars of Henriot, where dark mouldy verticals of Henriot lay in quiet rest as they have been for years and decades. There, Laurent pulled out a 1982 Henriot Enchanteleurs from its bin and proceeded to disgorge the wine. DSC_5536To our immense surprise, this wine was still amazingly fresh and youthful, producing a deep aromatic glow with a great display of crisp acidity, complex citrus and great balance, just a tad dry, ensuring decades of life ahead. Truly an unique experience.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the piece de resistance came in the form of two magnums of Henriot Cuvee 38, popped and poured over a delectable lunch at the two Michelin-starred Les Crayieres. Started from a visionary move in 1990, this cuvee is made only from 100% chardonnay from four grand cru sites, when a small quantity is set aside each year and added to similar wine from previous years in a solera system and disgorged. The Cuvee 38 is minerally with intense notes of lemon, clear citrus and pomelo, highly complex and dry with a creamy texture throughout its length with a mild yeasty pungency coming on later, slightly austere at the finish. Far from mature, but superb. This has been a great eye opener and I’ll be sure to drink more Champagne Henriot when I get home. Merci beaucoup to Beatrice, Laurent and FICOFI for their kind generosity and hospitality.

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