In July, The Buyer’s Victor Smart travelled to Champagne Henriot to get the thinking behind the house’s eagerly-anticipated new Cuvée Hemera 2005. This month saw the UK launch in London and our resident Queen of the Bubbles, Anne Krebiehl MW, met up with chef de cave Laurent Fresnet and his team to taste the new Cuvée and give us her verdict.
Anne also tasted Brut Rosé NV, Brut Souverain NV, Blanc de Blancs NV, Brut Millésimé 2008, the Cuvée des Enchanteleurs 2000 and one wine from a Jeroboam, that she thought stole the limelight.
The room at the Shangri-La Hotel was chosen for its natural light… the views of London are superb. This was naturally because Cuvée Hemera is named after the Greek goddess of light in fact the words “time becomes light” appeared several times.
Laurent Fresnet, chef de caves at Henriot since 2006, had arrived at Champagne Henriot just in time for the 2005 harvest. He recalled how he was charged by Joseph Henriot (1936-2015) to do the impossible: “The mission was to recover the real DNA of Henriot, he told me. ‘Your mission is to change everything without touching a thing.’” The idea was to create a follow-up for the house’s prestige bottling ‘Cuvée des Enchanteleurs’ and today Fresnet launched the fruit of his labours, Cuvée Hemera 2005.
Leading up to the new cuvée was a tasting of almost the entire collection of the house: Its Brut Rosé NV, Brut Souverain NV, Blanc de Blancs NV, Brut Millésimé 2008, the Cuvée des Enchanteleurs 2000 and finally Cuvée Hemera 2005.
The contrast between Enchanteleurs and Hemera was clear, despite both wines having a lot in common (both are 50/50 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, both are chosen from base wines of the same six villages: Mailly, Verzy, Verzenay, Mesnil sur Oger, Avize and Chouilly) their style is very different.
Notwithstanding the vintage difference, Enchanteleurs was rounded, had a nose that was reminiscent of crushed Ritz crackers, sea salt, truffle and roasted cashew. The palate was expansive and evolved, with wonderfully bitter edges reminiscent of dark fir honey, full-bodied, confident and rich.
Hemera, on the other hand, is far more restrained in style and at this point, still is too young. It spent 12 years on lees and still needs to come out of its shell. Creaminess and saltiness, rather than fruit are apparent and one feels that this is more slender, more contained. Where Enchanteleurs was bold, Hemera is subtle.
The real star of the tasting, however, and completely à point was Henriot Blanc de Blancs NV. It immediately shone with vivid aromas of almond praline and convinced with fine mousse, creaminess and nutty, toasted roundness despite its undeniable freshness and linearity. This wine represents 15% of the annual production of about 1.3 million bottles. Half of the Chardonnay is sourced from Avize and Chouilly in the Côte des Blancs, 30% from Trépail and Vertus, both prized for structure with the rest from the Côte de Sézanne. The blend contains 40% of reserve wines.
The first bottle we tasted was based mainly on the 2012 vintage, but the brilliance of this cuvée was driven home with a Jéroboam of the Blanc de Blancs NV, based mainly on the 2008 vintage. It has the same flinty but round nuttiness and the same spine of freshness. Chardonnay is indeed the DNA of Henriot. Have your fill of this wonderful Blanc de Blancs until Hemera comes round.