Champagne Henriot Class at Gordon’s
On Friday, December 5 2008 I attended another great wine class at Gordon’s Fine Wine and Liquors in Waltham, MA. As previously mentioned in my last post, I was quite impressed with the ‘house’ cuvee of Champagne Henriot, the Brut Souverain NV, at a wine tasting at The Spirited Gourmet. Not that I am any great champagne expert, mind you. I just know what I like.
The class was given by Champagne Henriot New England Sales director Mark Bell. Mr. Bell was formerly a sommelier at Jean Georges, a very fine restaurant in New York City. Clearly he has opened a couple few thousand bottles of champagne in his career(s). He even demonstrated how he would perform Sabrage, which I had never even heard of. This is the art of opening a champagne bottle with a saber. Don’t try this at home. You could shoot your eye out. (Just watched ‘A Christmas Story’ a few days ago).
Photo at left is of Mark Bell, Gordon’s Wine & Culinary Directory Lindsay Cohen, and her assistant at the door. In this class Mr. Bell discussed champagne making at Henriot, and we tasted 5 champagnes from the venerable House. They are a family-owned winery in Rheims, Champagne, France, and have been making champagne since 1808. In France you can only label sparkling wine as champagne if it is from a winery in the Champagne apellation, France, and is created by the Méthode Champenoise, a labor- and time-intensive process. This is described pretty succinctly in this web page, Making Champagne, by Alexander J. Pandell, Ph.D. Those poor yeast cells literally spill their guts so that we may detect that toasty yeastiness in our champagne.
The winery in Champagne (the region) is located some 95 miles northeast of Paris. The weather is not warm and the wines before fermentation(s) are low in sugar and quite high in acidity. They are so acidic as to be basically unpalatable. The soil in the region is full of limestone chalk and this chalkiness and minerality is reflected in the champagnes. Three types of grapes are used in making Champagne (the drink): chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot munier. Henriot however chooses not to use any pinot munier in their champagnes. They also do not use any wood at all to age the wines in: all toastyness comes from the lees (champagnes aged on lees/sur lie). All champagnes are aged in stainless steel.
The 5 champagnes we tasted are as follows, with some of my notes:
Brut Souverain NV: “House” style champagne, reflects the approach, style, and taste of the Maison Henriot. Aged 30 months on lees. Blended from 35 crus, from several vintages, 40% chardonnay, 60% pinot noir. Light, crisp, toasty, redolent of brioche and stone fruits. Lovely.
Blanc Souverain Pur Chardonnay NV: 100% chardonnay (blanc de blancs), aromatically more intense and interesting than Brut Souverain, also fuller bodied and rounder in mouth. My personal fave. Fabulous.
Rose Brut NV: 42% chardonnay, 58% pinot noir. Still pinot noir part of blend to make color pinkish-orange, saignee method not used. Dried red fruits, spice and earth.
Brut Millesime 1996: 48% chardonnay, 52% pinot noir. 1996 was a great vintage in Champagne hence this vintage effort. Primary notes of truffles and fig.
Cuvee des Enchanteleurs 1995: The house “tete de cuvee”, their top of the line cuvee. Majority of blend is chardonnay. After 13 years of aging, this shows great richness and complexity. The nose is port-like and smells *very* strongly of truffles. Personally, I prefer the brighter, younger, crisper, not very aged champagne style.
So this was very fun and Mr. Bell was very entertaining and a gracious presenter. Kudos yet again to Gordon’s for offering such a variety of fun wine classes.