Henriot Cuve 38, a blend of Henriot’s best Blanc de Blancs of which only 1000 magnums will be put on sale each year, has just been released onto the market. I was excited to attend the first tasting in London this week, which was run by Thomas Henriot Managing Director at Champagne Henriot and 7th generation of the family, and Laurent Fresnet Chef de Cave at Henriot.
The Henriot family has been in Champagne for generations, they established themselves as growers in 1640 and started their own Champagne house in 1808. A fortuitous marriage to Marie Marguet in 1880, whose family owned vineyards in the Cotes des Blancs, established the house’s Chardonnay pedigree, which can be seen in their signature elegant, fresh style. Today the house remains proudly independent and is directed by Joseph Henriot and his son Thomas.
A long term vision
Perhaps this long family tradition and roots in the Cote led Joseph to the idea of Cuve 38 – a vision for a unique and complex champagne that expresses the house’s DNA – and why Cuve 38, does the number have any special significance? In 1990 Joseph Henriot set aside one tank, Cuve 38, which was filled with a blend of 100% Chardonnay, the best wines sourced from four grand cru villages in the Cote des Blancs – Mesnil-sur-Oger, Chouilly, Avise and Oger.
Why four out of five Cote de Blancs grand crus, I asked Laurent, why not add some Cramant? He replied that it is a question of not having access to sufficient quantity of high quality Cramant to add to the blend. If that changes he wouldn’t rule it out.
The actual blend is top secret, but each year since 1990 some wine has been added to Cuve 38. Even in the weaker vintages such as 1991 they are able to source small quantities of top quality grapes, although they may only add as little as 1.5%. In top vintages such as 2008, they could add up to 20%, but never more so as not to overwhelm the finished wine with the personality of a particular vintage.
Thomas explained that his team pick 30-40 grand cru Chardonnay wines each year, which he tastes with Laurent and his team so they can pick the best and agree on the percentage that will be added to Cuve 38
A tasting and waiting game
How did they decide when it was time to bottle the wine? Thomas explained that he and his father drank Cuve 38 as a still wine during dinners together for some time. It was only in 2007, after 17 years of patiently waiting, that they considered the wine ready to be shared with the world.
So in 2007 the decision was made to bottle 1000 magnums. The wines were kept on lees for six years and not disgorged until 2014, and they are only now being released for sale.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to join the first UK tasting of Cuve 38. My first reaction was surprise, knowing how big and powerful many prestige champagnes from the 1990 vintage are, I was expecting Cuve 38 to follow this pattern. It didn’t, it combined the weight of a top grand cru with a wonderful elegance and finesse. The nose was complex: mineral, aromatic and floral with sea shells, smoke, roasted nuts, a touch of earthiness and mushrooms and so fresh.
The palate again was fresh and elegant, with minerals and florals and a creamy roundness. It has a very long finish and a classic Henriot style.
Points: 95 with enormous potential to develop further
Apart from Cuve 38 we also tried:
1990 Henriot Vinotheque out of Jeroboam. What a wonderful Champagne, with such concentration, intensity, complexity and richness. This displayed a more typical 1990 character. 96 points
1998 Henriot Les Enchanteleurs. Elegant and floral but also incorporating a richness, with nutty, herbal, smoky notes and a very long finish. 94 points
2003 Henriot. 2003 was one of the hottest years recorded in Champagne, with the grapes rapidly ripening Laurent called all his workers to come back from their holidays on the 15th of August and they start to pick on the 18th. Because of the spring frost and later heat yields were low, but early picking meant freshness was maintained in the wines and they are showing very well.
I was surprised to see how fresh this wine was, it is the best example from that vintage that I have tried after Dom Perignon. Laurent used almost 60% Chardonnay in 2003 compared to a 50/50 Chardonnay Pinot Noir split in most vintages. The 2003 has subtle toasty aromas, roasted chestnuts and smoke. The Palate is elegant and creamy showing a depth and concentration, complex aromas and a long finish. 91 points
2005 Henriot Rose. Absolutely delicious – floral, subtle, blueberry, sweet spices on the nose. Elegant, with a beautiful floral, long finish. 92 points