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Henriot Millesime 1998 - Champagne, France
My exposure to champagne is not as comprehensive as in the United Kingdom or US markets, as we do not see many of the excellent smaller houses and grower champagnes in Asia.
However, this Henriot Millesime was selected from three blind (masked bottles) champagne tastings I participated in in 2007 and it was unquestionably the standout wine amongst 116 different wines sampled. Furthermore, it was unanimously rated the best wine in a line-up of 38 prestige or luxury cuvee, including Dom Perignon, ironically the Henriot 1998 being their standard vintage offering and mistakenly included in the tasting.
This wine clearly over-delivers in quality and value, not only one of the bargains of the year and wholly deserving of this accolade, Henriot rightfully ranks amongst the top echelon, a commendable achievement as they celebrate their 200th birthday this year. I had hoped to befittingly post this timed with New Years Eve; alas champagne is the beverage of choice any time whether it celebrate, or to commiserate, in the words of Sir Winston Churchill:"In victory, we deserve it. In defeat, we need it."
Champagne Henriot was established in 1808 by Apolline Henriot, widow of Nicolas Simon Henriot, although the family had settled in Champagne back in the 16thCrus of the Côte des Blancs, the Grande Vallée de la Marne and the Montagne de Reims. century. From the tiny production of a single vineyard in Bouzy the house of Henriot built up its vineyard holdings over the next 100 years to a considerable size, spread over the best
In 1905 Henriot was granted a Royal Warrant by François-Joseph II, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary and needless to say, enjoyed a golden era. Successive generations have maintained and enhanced Henriot’s reputation, notably Joseph Henriot, who was also President of Charles Heidsieck, then Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin and is largely responsible for Henriot’s present-day ranking amongst the top 10 Marques. Joseph’s son, Stanislas, of the seventh generation, has now taken over the management of Henriot.
Terroir (= total vineyard environment) & Vintage Synopsis
The region of Champagne is in its entirety without question a unique terroir with its peerless chalky–limestone soils and cold northern climate. However, there is a predominance of non-specific vineyard wines and individual house blends in champagne and therefore the influence of individual terroir can be opaque. Indeed, this wine comes from a mosaic of vineyards within different regions and famous crus: Chardonnay in Chouilly, Oger, Avize, Mesnil, Vertus, Cramant and Pinot Noir in Verzy, Verzenay, Avenay, Mareuil, Mailly. This particular cuvee has a high percentage of Grand Cru Chardonnay vineyards, consistent with the Henriot house style, which accounts for the marked vibrancy and finesse.
Some houses controversially did not declare 1998 a vintage. But it has turned out excellent and indeed is now considered superior and more long-lived than the then-favoured 199. In general it has requisite naturally high acidity yet very expressive ripe fruit although quality is variable between champagne houses.
Making champagne, or Methode Champenoise, is perhaps the most interventionist of any winemaking process and crafted by highly skilled technicians. The very fact that the base wine, after its initial fermentation, is inoculated with yeast and sugar in order to undergo a secondary fermentation in bottle. Furthermore the additional dosage of grape sugar concentrate when disgorged (the final process of removing the dead yeasts and sealing with cork) to determine the desired level of dryness makes champagne an intricate and highly manipulated wine. The art of blending is also intrinsic to winemaking in Champagne with a kaleidoscope of different vineyards and regions amalgamated with exacting precision, and in the case of non-vintage wine (NV) several years and reserve wines utilized to achieve a consistent house style.
Enticing twinkling bright yellow colour; equally captivating perfume of fresh cut apple and lemon zest, smoky pork fat - like roasted pork crackling and apple sauce – hints of fennel, toasty and nutty-scorched-almond, sour dough bread crust with a touch of butterscotch developed characters with scents of Poire William (Pear Eau de Vie). Tart and gentle palate entry, noticeably crisp, lean and chalky, then builds in intensity towards the middle palate turning on all of its power and an infusion of freshly squeezed lemon with fresh cut granny smith (green) apple piquancy, very fine and persistent bubble and inedible acidity tantalizingly carrying the tart flavours among a wet chalk earthiness and subtle tarragon tang with a tingly pickled ginger spiciness. It finishes very dry with a hint of chalkiness and a lingering melange of toasty-nougat and lemon. Seductive and oozes class with an elegant and racy appearance of a Blanc de Blanc (all Chardonnay) wine.
Serving & Food Pairing
Champagne is unquestionably the consummate aperitif wine, although often overlooked as a wine to pair with a meal, particularly Asian food. However, I find it thoroughly excellent with dim sum, keeping one’s palate refreshed from the subtle oiliness of some dishes, in particular Shanghai dumplings (although avoid the accompanying vinegar). It pairs brilliantly with steamed lobster or fish with fresh young ginger and pairs with sushi of almost any fish, the acidity balancing the oiliness of raw fish and capable of keeping up with wasabi and pickled ginger, although don’t overdo the soy.
In more general terms, the naturally high acidity in champagne will keep up with spicy Thai salads or similar spicy seafood dishes although avoid overtly hot chilli. Champagne should always be served well-chilled, certainly no less than 8C, although personally I prefer a little lower, around 5C and kept in an ice bucket or fridge. It is imperative to use a flute shaped glass to enhance the bead (steady stream of bubbles), maintaining the liveliness and allure.
Longevity & Price Point
Whilst this wine is superb drinking now, with its vibrant acidity and balance it will continue to develop for another five years and hold for considerably longer. Having tried this wine several times, purely out of professional conscientiousness of course, and witnessed it outperforming luxury cuvees twice its price, it consistently over-delivers as one of the most outstanding price-quality rapport bargains of Champagne; Clearly a Bon Anne!
China: Jointek Fine Wines www.jointekfinewines.com
Hong Kong: Fine Vintage (Far East) Ltd email@example.com, Ph: 2896 6108
Taiwan: Eslite, www.eslitegourmet.com.tw
Japan: Suntory, www.suntory.com
South Korea: www.narafood.com
Singapore: Taste Tradition, www.taste.com.sg
Vietnam: Daloc, www.daloc.vn
India: Sansula, www.sansula.com
For more information on Champagne Henriot, visit www.champagne-henriot.com.
To find out more on Champagne in general, visit the official site of The Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne www.champagne.com. The Union of Champagne Houses also has its own website, www.maisons-champagne.com, as does the artisan grower Champagnes, or Champagnes des Vignerons visit www.champagnesdevignerons.com.
The Champagne region is less than 100 miles east of Paris and only 1 ½ hours by train (Paris to Reims) and is an excellent weekend escape or even one or two day stopover if transiting through Charles des Gaulle. I strongly recommend you stay at Boyer "Les Crayères in Reims, www.lescrayeres.com, one of the best hotels and restaurants in the world. Reims also boasts one of the largest cathedrals in France and the coronation site of French kings along with numerous of caves (cellars) well geared to receive visitors, including Champagne Henriot.
“Life is filling in time between meals… and a meal without wine could only be breakfast”
Curtis Marsh – The Wandering Palate