Seven years after taking over at the helm of Champagne Henriot, one of Champagne’s last family-operated Houses, Gilles de Larouzière Henriot has overseen the launch of a bold new cuvée, Henriot L’Inattendue 2016. This single vineyard wine will be sourced entirely by whichever of the House’s Chardonnay crus ‘speak the loudest’ during the tasting of the still wines. For its inaugural release it was the fruit from the four plots at Avize which have been the bedrock of the new wine, Peter Dean reports.
“So approachable for a relatively young Blanc des Blancs, this truly is a statement of intent,” writes Dean.
Just over two centuries since it was established in 1808, Champagne Henriot has revealed a tantalising glimpse of its future direction with the launch of Henriot L’inattendue 2016. A single vineyard expression whose source of fruit can change vintage by vintage, Henriot L’inattendue 2016 is as much about an emotional reaction to the tasting of the still young wines of the vins clairs as it is by technical knowhow.
Eighth generation family member Gilles de Larouzière Henriot explained that, since taking over the House in 2015 his initial work in the vineyards in the 2015 harvest inspired him with the idea of focusing a small-batch cuvée on the vineyard that ‘speaks the loudest’ during the vins clairs tasting.
“L’inattendue is all about the diversity of the terroirs and all about the diversity of expression through the years and it is all about selecting parcels and making fine wines. My great discovery was the tasting of the vins clairs – still wines, still very young one month before the blending where we see them evolve and tend to project them into the future to understand what they can become and what kind of balance we can create with these wines.”
“And I was very struck at the 2015 vins clairs tasting by the diversity of the expression – the fact that you have a general note of a vintage and then you have two or three crus that speak out a little bit and one in particular has more power, a more distinctive, more impressive expression of its qualities, I shared that and we decided that we would pay attention to that in the 2016 vintage, the terroir that has that specific brightness and to simply capture it in a tiny cuvée dedicated to this cru.”
A break from tradition
L’inattendue is an interesting break from family tradition because the House style has always been based upon blending a range of crus from the last vintage and reserves from previous years.
When Apolline Henriot founded the House in 1808, the Champagnes were based upon three crus all from the Montagne de Reims. In 1880 with the marriage of Paul Henriot and Marie Marguet, her dowry included three vineyards from the Côte des Blancs taking the House’s freehold to six crus, the provenance of which forms the Henriot Cuvée Hemera which is dedicated to this fourth generation of Henriots (the latest expression being the 2006) with only three or four releases of this cuvée being released every decade.
Over time, the House has expanded its vineyards to 29 crus, a bit of each making up Henriot Brut Souverain.
“You could say L’inattendue is very trendy because it is a terroir cuvée but it’s not really it’s a tribute to the art of blending. Why? Because we have not decided to make a cuvée of Avize every year, we have decided to identify the diversity of the vineyard and the diversity of expression every year – although we are isolating a cru we are also paying attention to the diversity of crus,” explains Gilles.
He continues to explain that when tasting the 2016 vins clairs it was the four lieu-dits on the eastern side of the Avize village that jumped out from the line-up.
“In 2016 Avize was standing out. Why? Because what you expect from Avize is the laser, the Japanese blade, the tension and the precision, the incisive freshness of this fantastic terroir and, of course, we have that with L’inattendue in 16, but we also have a broader, more powerful expression and also structure. Of all the wines of ‘16 Avize was standing out and that’s why we decided to single it out, bottle it and forget about it in a corner of the cellar for a few years before coming back to it.”
Alice Tétienne, cellar master of Maison Henriot, explains that her team employs the same winemaking techniques to all the cuvées so as to best express the specific terroir – stainless steel tank and full malolactic fermentation (a House tradition that may change in the future according to what changes happen to the climate, she reveals).
“Soil, climate, and the hand of the human are the three pillars that compose the terroir, so in the soil of Avize there is a lot of chalk; 2016 was a year in two parts – the first part was very humid and rainy and the second part was a contrast as it was very warm and dry with a lack of humidity so it was a perfect year. And we decided on a small dosage (4 gms/ litre) which we adapted to have good balance and respect the expression of this Chardonnay.”
Interestingly Henriot picked the Chardonnay last during the 2016 harvest with the four Avize plots being the very last vineyards to be harvested.
As for the release date of L’inattendue 2016.
“We tasted it and decided it was ready,” says Tétienne, “it was what Giles had felt in 2016. It had been an emotional moment and an emotional selection. We will repeat it but not Avize and we will make the decision from one year to the other to capture the particular expression of one terroir – Aÿ, Verzenay, Mesnil whatever – one terroir speaking out and what we want to capture.”
So what does L’inattendue 2016 taste like?
A delicious new cuvée that reinforces Gilles’ claim that Henriot is focused on making fine wine – an impressive balance between fine elegant Chardonnay with power and structure.
Pale to medium gold, vigorous fine bead; on the nose the wine is pure, fresh, fine, beautifully detailed with citrus fruit, chalky fresh with a slight smoky edge, oyster shell, crushed rocks with some savoury nuances of where the wine will be headed – lemon shortbread, fresh nuts.
The attack is clean, bright, crisp – there’s a lovely weight and balance in the mouth with a citrus prickle on the tongue complemented by a ripeness and roundness of the fruit which has a lick of fresh butter.
So approachable for a relatively young Blanc des Blancs, this truly is a statement of intent.
My only quibbles would be that the whole Avize story is not referenced on the label, a shame as that is the wine’s raison d’être, a mention of it would explain the difference in style vintage by vintage and would also, presumably, be a selling point for collectors. I’m not a fan of the name either but the wine I like very much.
L’inattendue 2016 was disgorged a year ago, there will be 18,000 bottles available at a RRP of £108. Future releases of this new cuvée will depend upon which cru ‘speaks the loudest’ in any given vintage and the yield of that cru.