Unveiling Excellence: A Masterclass with Henri Giraud Champagne.
Everything about this day seemed charmed, as if we were born under a fortunate star. It was the day when ‘La Champagne with Le Champagne’ graced our doorstep. Champagne Henri Giraud made its way to Amsterdam for a remarkable Masterclass, led by the illustrious Sébastien Le Golvet (Cellar Master of the Year in Champagne), orchestrated by the Dutch importer and retailer Pasteuning.
The pinnacle of luck was reached with the number seven. Seven exceptional cuvees were unveiled to our intimate gathering of wine professionals. What follows is a recount of this splendid November day.
Every Story Begins with a Legacy, Every Bottle with a Distinct Barrel
Sébastien Le Golvet set the stage with a compelling narrative: ‘My family works in the vineyards now for 400 years’. This marked the genesis of our journey into the world of Henri Giraud.
This Maison operates with precision, emphasizing ‘small formats’—utilizing only small oak barrels and concrete eggs. Each barrel, exclusively sourced from local forests, boasts full traceability, ensuring every element of crafting is tailored to Henri Giraud’s exacting standards.
Crucially, at Henri Giraud, oak isn’t employed to impart flavor; it’s a vessel to amplify the essence of the Ay vineyards. Their oak is sourced from the Argonne Forest, renowned for its rich diversity. Here, 10 distinct terroirs play pivotal roles, contributing varying mineral and fruity nuances. Adaptability is the key to their artistry, as evidenced by the meticulous process of drying oak for 3 to 4 years.
Barrel selection is an art form. Depending on the harvest’s quality, each barrel is exclusively chosen 1 to 2 months ahead and toasted to suit the vintage’s unique character. The concept of ‘one size fits all’ has no place in Henri Giraud’s winemaking.
Henri Giraud proudly collaborates with the Forest Association, which oversees France’s forests. The association regulates tree harvesting, focusing on ‘young’ 80-year-old trees and some nearing 200 years of age. The delicate balance between ‘young’ and ‘old’ is a constant consideration, ensuring the forest’s well-being.
Another cornerstone of the Maison is the terroir, steeped in 2,000 years of history. Aÿ’s shallow topsoil reveals 200 meters of pristine Belemnite chalk, with the river Marne lending its refreshing influence to the wines. This freshness is beautifully expressed through ‘minty aromas’ and the Pinot Noir’s delightful scents of violets and Mirabelle.
‘Salinity’ holds immense significance for Henri Giraud, a quality present in every grapevine, a testament to their natural approach. They minimize intervention, allowing wines to undergo malolactic conversion, in alignment with their philosophy of minimal sulfite usage to control oxidation. Grapes are chilled upon arrival, and only a minimal amount of sulfites is employed during crushing, while natural debourbage spans two days. The journey continues with alcoholic and malolactic fermentation taking place in oak barrels, assuring the highest quality from start to finish.
The Tasting Experience
Following a brief introduction, the moment arrived to savor the wines, per Sébastien’s invitation: ‘Please, do not spit the wines as they are full of energy’
Before us lay a table adorned with seven masterpieces, some exceptionally rare.
1. Fût de Chêne MV12
First, let’s clarify ’12.’ It’s not a vintage; it’s the cuvee’s freshness factor. The freshest component hails from the ‘youngest’ vintage of 2012, comprising 60% of the blend, while the remaining 30 years represent Henri Giraud’s harvest history.
Sébastien shared ‘Our treasure at HG is our perpetual reserve. Year after year, we incorporate juice from the latest harvest. With three decades of history, our cellar’s proximity to the river ensures stable temperatures year-round, translating into the refreshing character in your glass.’
MV stands for Multi Vintage, and the Maison offers two distinct MV types: one highlighting terroir and another embracing an oceanic character. This cuvee, in particular, delves into the terroir, offering a journey ‘back in time,’ showcasing the wine’s remarkable aging potential. It matures with 50% in new 228L barrels and 50% in 3-4-year-old barrels.
On the nose impressive aromas of yellow fruit, yellow apple, Mirabelle plum, apricot jam. The swirl reveals the aromatics of the second nose – the minty freshness! The palate is energetic with high and decadent acidity. Finale is prolonged by the minty freshness.
We award the ‘Fût de Chêne MV12’ with a 94-point DWA score.
2. Fût de Chêne MV17
As we can follow the pattern, here the majority is harvest 2017 and the rest is 30 years of history. – perpetual reserve. 2017 was very tough vintage. However, as Sébastien stated: ‘At Henri Giraud we love difficult years. As it is the year where you can see the power of the terroir, also the power of the people who are working to make it.’
The nose is being attacked by reduction and scents of struck match. The oxygen reveals the richness of this wine. The oceanic freshness with iodine saltiness undertone hypnotizes you. The second nose sparks some salted popcorn. The palate is squared by high acidity of dry chalky sensation. Such an austerity filled with freshness. The finale is long with opulent touch of white truffle.
We award the ‘Fût de Chêne MV17’ with a 97-point DWA score.
3. Fût de Chêne MV Rosé
Just a drop of red wine from Aÿ 5-6% added in MV wine that we tasted. MV Rosé does not carry any vintage or number as it is purely made of perpetual reserve. Production is tiny, just 4.000 bottles and not every year. Why? It is problematic to produce vin rouge yearly from Aÿ.
Olfactory senses are sensually touched by citric fruit. The mysterious mixture of fresh and dried aromatics. Fresh orange, red orange in ensemble with fresh tangerine. With time the tones of dried strawberry and dried orange peel appear. Exotic undertone of fresh strawberry macerated in vin rouge. The palate is crunchy with high acidity of chalky tension. Finale is long with bitter orange peel flavor, accentuated by salinity. Ça Pinot! Gastronomic extravaganza.
We award the ‘Fût de Chêne MV Rosé’ with a 96-point DWA score.
4. Perpetual Reserve 90-19
This is the only Champagne at Henri Giraud that is 100% Perpetual Reserve. Assemblage 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay. At the Maison there are two types of ‘PR’:
1st that started in 1950s
2nd started approximately 30 years ago. (remember, all we tasted before came from this 2nd ‘PR’)
This bottle is a mixture of both perpetual reserves. You wonder just like us, why both?
First, it responds to the style of Henri Giraud. Secondly, it started with the Argonne Forest. Since 1990 Claude Giraud decided to source oak from that forest. He quickly realized the superiority of this solid and dense oaks.
Sébastien highlighted: ‘Now we have a real treasure in our glass, this is what everyone wants to have in Champagne. These wines they do not age anymore. They are fixed in the momentum of the history and won’t lose its freshness.’ Production is just 8.000 bottles.
The nose is nothing like any previous tasted wines. It is a different realm. A kingdom of yoghurt, butter and brioche. Yet it does not get illusive. Time exposed an orchard garden of yellow fruit, flowers and an exotic undertone of dried persimmon. The palate is formidable with an oily power of chestnut honey balanced by high acidity and clean chalky tension. The finish is driven by condensed freshness and a dominance of black truffle.
We award the ‘Perpetual Reserve 90-19’ with a 97-point DWA score.
As Sébastien expressed: ‘this is now an ooh la la moment, we are very lucky today, as this is very very rare.’
We are moving to the Argonne bottles. There are not a lot of masterclasses in the world where you have ‘Argonne’ but having 3 different ‘Argonne’s’ is extraordinary. When and if a bottle of ‘Argonne’ is opened at the Maison, an email has to be sent to Sebastien for approval.
An iconic cuvee from Henri Giraud. All is done by hand, craftsmanship from A to Z. 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay. Vinification 100% new oak. 8-10 years on the lees. The individually numbered bottles are gilded with fine gold at the local shop in Aÿ and sealed closed in the time-honored clip and printed cork fashion.
Every time when the new vintage is released, the etcher from Versailles Palace is being invited (a good friend of Claude Giraud) to travel to the Aÿ atelier for a few weeks, to single handedly engrave each bottle! The ‘golden leaf’ has there is a message behind it. It symbolizes the fragility of the leaf, of the vine, of the job involved by every man and woman. Every step is about the delicacy of the job. The square shape of the label with 2 military bolts stands for ‘control’. Argonne Forest during the war was a battlefield. This is the link between Argonne Forest and the history of the region.
Sébastien shared: ‘when you taste Argonne you are in the heart of the region, where power of people controls the process’.
On the nose a kaleidoscope of scents. The herbal bouquet is led by chamomile, mint and all spices. The driving force of fruit basket filled with clementines, Mirabelle plum, oranges. The secondary nose warms up by subtle odors of apricot tarte taint. The palate is tight and solid attacked by high electric acidity. Circular tension of chalk dust. Finale is infinite with flavors of black truffle and hints of anise.
We award the ‘Argonne 2012’ with a 99-point DWA score.
The first impression of the nose slightly shy and discreet. Nuanced freshness of mint, apple, Mirabelle plum. Delicacy of brioche, lemon confit and a touch of oak. The palate evocative interplay between phenolic concentration and vibrant vinosity caressed by high acidity. Finale is infused by crushed almond shavings and white truffle.
We award the ‘Argonne 2014’ with a 97-point DWA score.
The olfactory senses are being captivated by aromas of freshly crushed mint in the sheer of smoke. The caramelized hazelnut, freshness of Meyer lemon, delicate odors of Mirabelle tarte taint with hints of orange peel and honey. The palate is opulent with a waxy texture with electrifying high acidity. The viscous finale brushed by chalky dust yet at the end washed by mouthwatering salinity.
We award the ‘Argonne 2015’ with a 98-point DWA score.
Henri Giraud: Crafting Excellence Beyond Bubbles
In conclusion, Henri Giraud shines not for its bubbles, but for its exceptional wines. Their dedication lies in crafting outstanding wines, far beyond mere celebratory bubbles. The secret recipe is their ‘perpetual reserve’ wines and their tailor-made use of oak barrels, made to measure to each harvest.
Simply, what is not so simple at the end of the day, each barrel is being adapted to every year’s harvest. The yearly game at Henri Giraud is not only to examine the harvest but also which barrel will be used with what kind of toast for that particular parcel. You will not see any stainless-steel tanks at the Maison.
Notably, since 2010, Henri Giraud’s reforestation campaign has resulted in the planting of over 70,000 trees. It’s a meaningful reminder that when you enjoy a bottle of Henri Giraud Champagne, you contribute to the renewal of the Argonne Forest.
What truly sets their wines apart is the distinctive “salinity” that graces every cuvee, leaving a lasting impression on the palate. Each Henri Giraud wine has its own unique narrative; it’s not about reproducing the same wine year after year.
And to end our experience Sébastien wisely noted, “At Henri Giraud, we taste our bottles ‘too early,’ they are ‘too young.’ The MV bottles serve as a gentle reminder to customers to exercise patience with their Henri Giraud treasures.
This article has been written by our own Jelena van Eerdenburg, we would like to thank Pasteuning, for organizing this magnificent masterclass, Guillaume Jourdan of VitaBella Luxury & Lifestyle for his guidance and Champagne Henri Giraud, in particular Emmanuelle Giraud and Sébastien Le Golvet for this wonderful experience.
Almost all the mentioned wines, and more, can be purchased through Pasteuning directly, online through their webshop or in their physical store in Amsterdam, although needless to say that the supply for these extraordinary Champagne’s is limited.
To learn more about Pasteuning and their excellent wine selection we encourage you to read a previous article we wrote, which you can find here.