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Catching Up With the Henriots

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jun 10, 2008 5:50pm ET

Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Joseph Henriot and his son Stanislas, of Champagne Henriot. We discussed a lot of issues, from corks to Burgundy and Beaujolais, where they have just purchased Château Poncié, to the future of Champagne.

It seems that corks have become an issue in Champagne also. Henriot has experimented with the new DIAM closure, a composite cork that removes TCA during the manufacturing process. Hugel & Fils in Alsace, among others, are using these closures for their varietal range.

The Henriots also have some expertise in Burgundy, where they own Bouchard Père & Fils and William Fèvre.

But Champagne was the main topic. Joseph Henriot was president of Veuve Clicquot for nine years, from 1985 until 1994. He also owned the Charles and Piper Heidsieck brands until he sold them in 1985 and 1987, respectively. As a result, he was unable to put 100 percent of his energy in to the Henriot brand at all times.

Yet they have made the kind of Champagnes they like over the years, building on consistency and quality, ensured by a constant source of grapes from some of the best crus. “There’s nothing revolutionary at Henriot,” remarked Stanislas.

The style expresses elegance and finesse, by relying on a high percentage of Chardonnay in the blend. In most years, it’s close to half Chardonnay and half Pinot Noir.

To illustrate the quality and character of the Henriot style, they brought a few bottles from the cellar: 1976, 1964 and 1959. The last was the first vintage for Joseph Henriot, who took over the house at the age of 21, after the death of his father. We also tasted the Brut Vintage 1996 and Cuvée des Enchanteleurs 1995.

The Brut 1996 revealed a delicate nose, very fresh, with ginger and toast. On the palate it was firm and elegant, balancing the structure with citrus and mineral notes (94 points, non-blind).

Next up was the Brut 1976 from magnum. It was made by the late Daniel Thibault, considered by many to be one of the best tasters and blenders among the ranks of chefs de caves. Thibault joined Henriot in 1973, moving to Heidsieck when it was sold. A sumptuous Champagne, the 1976 smelled of toast, coffee and smoke and tasted of grilled nuts, graphite and dried fruit. Round and beautifully textured, it lingered on the finish (95 points, non-blind).

The Brut 1964 was softer and concentrated, more liquoreux in a viscous way, showing plenty of roasted nut and veering toward oxidized, sherry and brandy flavors (89 points, non-blind). Though still enjoyable, it lacked the vivacity of both the ’76 and ’59.

Joseph Henriot was justifiably proud of the Brut 1959. Also from magnum, it was vigorous and powerful, like a big bear hug wrapping its smoke, herb, mineral and honey aromas and flavors around the palate. Complex and long, it appealed to both the senses and the intellect (97 points, non-blind).

The Brut Cuvée des Enchanteleurs 1995 is in that stage between youth and maturity. It showed vanilla, graphite, toast and candied lemon aromas and flavors, matched to a creamy texture. The aftertaste evoked coffee (94 points, non-blind).

We also discussed the current process of expanding the Champagne appellation. According to Stanislas, three factors will affect the balance of ownership in Champagne vineyards, which are now mostly owned by small growers: parcelization of vineyards, inheritance taxes and the power and financial might of the largest companies. “The planets are realigning in Champagne,” he said. “It will be interesting to see what happens in the next 20 years.”

Robert Boyle
California —  June 16, 2008 11:24pm ET
Mr. Sanderson, are you standing by your drinking window through 2010 on the 1996 Brut or do you think it will last longer?

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