Blanc de Blancs N.V. Champagne Henriot. (£38.70 at Oddbins).   

I’ll put my cards on the table; I’m a big fan of Henriot Champagne. I was at lunch with clients at Henriot’s winery in Reims recently and tasted their Blanc de Blancs as an aperitif. It’s not surprising that many see this as Henriot’s flagship wine; ‘think you’ll agree as you sip this 100% Chardonnay Champagne.

The history of Champagne is fascinating and every House has a tale to tell; we all know the story of the widow (veuve) Cliquot and the different ‘versions’ of who actually discovered the Champagne Method of ‘bubble production’. Henriot’s history is no less gripping.

Champagne Henriot started way back in 1794 when Nicolas Henriot, a wine merchant in Reims married Apolline Godinot, a local beauty and vineyard owner. Sadly, after 14 years of marriage, Nicolas died leaving Apolline to become one of the regions’ famous widows founding ‘Veuve Henriot Aine’ in 1808. The House has been in the family ever since.

Over the years the family built up an impressive portfolio of vineyard plots but in 1985 Joseph Henriot sold much of the estate; it’s reported that 125 hectares went to Veuve Clicquot in return for a reasonable chunk of Clicquot shares. He ended up running Veuve Cliquot within the L.V.M.H. (Louis Vuitton-Moet Hennessy) Group establishing himself as a Champagne  visionary along the way but, in 1994 he returned to the fold and appointed his eldest son Stanilas to run the family business. In 2010 his younger son Thomas took the steering wheel as success followed success. Henriot’s present prowess owes much to the inspirational winemaking and vineyard management of Chef de Caves Laurent Fresnet who joined in 2006. He deservedly won the International Sparkling Winemaker of the Year Award this year.

My regular readers know my oft-quoted adage that ‘you can’t make good wine from bad grapes’ and Champagne is no exception. All the Champagne vineyard villages carry a quality tag, be it cru, premier cru or grand cru status within the three main vineyard areas of  Montagne de Reims, the Vallee de la Marne and the Cotes de Blanc.

Henriot have about 35 hectares of top vineyard plots dotted around these three main areas, including Ay, a grand cru in the Vallee de la Marne, Avenay, a premier cru in the Montagne de Reims and Chouilly, a grand cru in the Cotes de Blancs.

These vineyards supply about 15-20 per cent of Henriot’s needs (they produce about 1.5 million bottles a year), the rest of the grapes come from trusted growers who own top premier and grand cru vineyards. The vineyards of the Cotes de Blancs, which include the Top Johnny villages of Avize, Oger, Cramant and Vertus are particularly cherished as the Cotes de Blanc is the home of Chardonnay, the Champagne grape that emphasises the creamy yet crisp Henriot style.

As well as being made from top grapes, Blanc de Blancs is aged for 4 – 5 years; ‘pretty impressive when you consider that most non vintage wines are lucky to get 18 months ‘on the lees’ (the dead yeast sediment) in the bottle, following the second fermentation.

In keeping with their insistence on quality, Henriot’s entry level non vintage Brut Sovereign (£34.00, www.thedrinkshop.com) is aged for a slow, cool 3 years on the lees.

By the way, our lunch at Henriot was prepared by Olivier Mezzarobba, a top Reims’ chef. If you ever get the chance to eat with him …. ‘just do it! One of our party, a seasoned gourmet t’boot, announced, “the best lunch I’ve ever had”. Praise indeed!