Tasting with the Sparkling Winemaker of the Year

By Martyn Zemavicius & Margaret Elderfield
Champagne Henriot Laurent Fresnet

Laurent Fresnet, Henriot chef de cave

Henriot has always been one of our favourite Champagne houses.  Their devotion to quality is paramount and it shines through in their wines, which have an elegant freshness, combined with depth of fruit and beautiful structure.  

Last Friday, we had the good fortune to taste across the Henriot range with their chef de cave, Laurent Fresnet.  Laurent was recently named Sparkling Winemaker of the Year for 2016 in the International Wine Challenge – the winemakers’ equivalent of winning an Oscar.

The wines were presented in different formats – including bottles, magnums and jeroboams – always an enlightening comparative experience.

We began with the Brut Souverain NV, perhaps Henriot’s most well-known cuvee, which we tasted first in bottle then in jeroboam. The Souverain is comprised of around half Chardonnay and half Pinot Noir, with just a touch of Meunier (less than 5%) in the blend.  The reserve wines (around 20%) always include a proportion of the previous year’s base wine, but can also include Grand Cru wine that goes into their vintage Cuvee des Enchanteleurs. Depending on the base year, it can even include a portion of the perpetual blend used in their Cuve 38. Aged for a minimum of 3 years on the lees, with a dosage of around 8-9 gr/L.

The 75cl bottle of Souverain, with the base wine from the 2011 vintage, exhibited a lovely length of fruit with some floral aromas and a touch of creaminess in the middle palate. But the Souverain in jeroboam, based on the 2000 vintage and disgorged only in 2013, had amazing opulence and power.  

Champagne Henriot Souverain Enchanteleurs

Good wines come in large and small packages

Next came the Henriot Blanc de Blancs NV, which recently won a Platinum medal in the 2016 Decanter World Wine Awards.  The grapes for this wine come primarily from the Cote des Blancs, including the Grand Cru villages of Mesnil sur Oger, Avize and Chouilly. Aged for 3-5 years, with a dosage of around 7 gr/L.

The 75cl bottle of Blanc de Blancs came from the 2008 base year, and was disgorged in 2012.  It was a beautifully balanced champagne, with white peach, floral and honeyed apple notes.  In comparison, the BdB from jeroboam with the 2006 base was a more broad affair, and showed a mix of youthful and maturing characteristics, including notes of spice and toasted minerals.

Then we tasted two vintages of Henriot’s vintage champagne, the Cuvee des Enchanteleurs, for 1999 and 2000, both from magnum.  The Enchanteleurs contains only Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, exclusively from Grand Cru villages. Interestingly, the 2000 vintage was kept in tank for an extended period prior to bottling, to safeguard the fresher, youthful characteristics as long as possible prior to maturation in bottle.  The Enchanteleurs is matured for a minimum of 12 years before release.  It is not always released in magnum, but when it is they limit production to 1,000-2,000 magnums only.

The 2000 Enchanteleurs from magnum displayed lovely round characteristics, including baked apple and stone fruits, and a toasted nutty character. The 1999 – called “Eclipse” because the Champagne region experienced a total solar eclipse in August of that year – was amazingly well-balanced between opulence and freshness, with incredible length of fruit. Both wines had lovely autolytic flavours of baked patisserie.

We finished with the Cuve 38 from magnum. Readers of our blog will know the great story behind this wine (see our earlier post 38 – The magic number at Champagne Henriot).  In 1990, Joseph Henriot had the foresight to begin a solera-style perpetual cuvee.  He set aside one tank, the Cuve 38, to which he added some of his best Grand Cru blanc de blancs.  Every year since they have drawn off 15-20% of wine from this tank, and replenished it with the best blanc de blancs from that year.  The Cuve 38 is now an incredibly complex blend, with the best of each year’s Grand Cru Chardonnay harvest.  It is released only in magnum (1,000 magnums per year), and aged for at least 5 years before release.

Tasting the Cuve 38 shows what can be achieved with great care, and with time, in winemaking. This is a blanc de blancs of great structure and complexity, with beautifully floral top notes and a mouthwatering saline mineral character on the finish.  It is a champagne of serious quality that would hold its own with many foods, even a post-prandial cheeseboard.

Our thanks again to Laurent and his team for their generosity in setting up this superb and educational tasting!  

Tasting notes for our favourite wines of the tasting are reproduced in full below.

Henriot Brut Souverain NV – in 3L
Equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with less than 5% Meunier. Grapes from 25 crus, most of which are located in the Montagne de Reims and the Cotes des Blancs.  Base wine from the 2000 vintage. Kept on cork and disgorged in 2013.  Dosage 7-8 gr/L.
Complex nose, nutty and earthy. Opulent, rich, powerful and long on the palate. Wow!
92 pts

Henriot Blanc de Blancs NV – in bottle
100% Chardonnay, mainly from the Cote des Blancs. 2008 base vintage. Disgorged 2012.
Floral, white peach, honey and apple aromatics. So pleasant rich and balanced on the palate, with honeyed flavours. Super champagne. 91 pts

Henriot 1999 Cuvee des Enchanteleurs “Eclipse” – in magnum
50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir.  All fruit comes from 6 Grand Cru villages (Mailly Champagne, Verzy and Verzenay in the Montagne de Reims; and Mesnil sur Oger, Avize and Chouilly in the Cote des Blancs).  Only 1800 magnums produced. Disgorged in 2014. 6g/L dosage.
On the nose, rich and nutty, with herbal, baked apple and biscuity aromas.
Opulent, rich and nutty on the palate with balanced acidity. Very long finish, complex and stunning!  94 pts.

Henriot Cuve 38 – in magnum
Bottled in 2009.  Disgorged in 2014. Only 1000 magnums produced in 2009.  From a perpetual blend “solera” comprising vintages 1990-2007. 3.5 g/L dosage.
Incredible complexity on the nose.  Notes of iodine, orange blossom, lemon tart, brioche, croissant and Madagascar vanilla. Stunning palate, elegant and powerful at the same time, with finesse. Floral honey, salted caramel and nutty flavours. Long and complex. Still needs time. 95 pts

 

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