While I was teaching--in an earlier life--I used to work part-time in a local wine shop, to feed my growing passion for wine. I quickly noticed that customers usually selected wines whose names they were familiar with; this was especially true with Champagne. In the New York metro area, Veuve Clicquot’s “Yellow Label” ruled, along with Moêt & Chandon (and its prestige cuvée, Dom Pérignon). Perrier-Jouet got some attention, but not too many other Champagnes.
I knew that Moêt & Chandon was by far the world’s leading Champagne brand in sales, followed by Veuve Clicquot, and so I was not surprised. But I was disappointed that so many other very fine Champagne producers, including the many Grower / Producer Champagnes (today far more common in wine shops) were apparently unknown by most consumers. And so I took on a personal campaign to familiarize customers with Champagne producers that I respected.
Among the many producers, two of my favorite Champagne houses have always been Gosset and Henriot, both similar in style. I should explain at this time that I have visited the Champagne region at least twenty times over the years, and have written a book about Champagne.
Now, both Gosset and Henriot are introducing new cuvées into the U.S. market this year. I attended both opening ceremonies of their release in the U.S. recently. I concluded that these fine houses have much in common, and decided to spotlight them together in this column.
Both Gosset and Henriot have a long history in the Champagne region. Gosset is actually the oldest wine house in Champagne; it was founded by Pierre Gosset in 1584. But Gosset made red wine at that time, and finally switched to Champagne, the bubbly stuff, in the late 1700s. (Ruinart, another excellent house, is the oldest Champagne producer, making it continuously since 1729.) Henriot was founded in 1808.
The Gosset family owned the Champagne house until 1993, when the Renaud-Cointreau family, producers of Frapin Cognac, purchased Gosset, and they still run it today. The charming, dynamic Beatrice Cointreau was in charge at first; she streamlined the Champagne line and made Gosset much more attractively packaged. Jean-Pierre Cointreau, Beatrice’s older brother, now manages Gosset. Sadly, Gosset’s cellar master for 33 years, Jean-Pierre Mareigner, just passed away this year at the age of 60.
Gosset basically has had four lines of Champagne:
--Gosset Excellence, its standard non-Vintage brut;
--Gosset Grande Réserve, its elite NV Brut, made from Grand and Premier Cru grapes;
--This category also includes a Grand Rosé NV Brut and Grand Blanc de Blancs NV Brut;
--Gosset Millésime Brut; its current Vintage Brut is the 2006;
--Gosset Célébris Extra Brut, its Prestige Cuvée, championed by the Cointreau family; its current vintage is the excellent 2002; the Célébris Extra Brut Rosé is the 2007;
A fifth line has now been added: Cuvée 15 Brut. It is a blend of many of the best vintages from the ‘80s to the late ‘90s. Cuvée 15 was cellared in 1999, and has rested on its lees in Gosset’s cold cellar for 15 years (hence the name) before being disgorged. It is 60 percent Chardonnay and 40 percent Pinot Noir, from mainly Grand Cru grapes.
Cuvée 15 was released in France in March, 2016, and will be for sale in the U.S. in June, 2016; 356 cases of six produced, but perhaps just 30 percent of that is being sent to U.S. I was impressed with its freshness and complexity. Although excellent now, it should develop and mature over the next ten years and more. It will retail for about twice the price of Gosset’s Grande Réserve, but less than its Prestige Cuvée, Célébris.
A quick, descriptive survey of Gosset’s Champagnes:
--Gosset Brut Excellence NV Brut: average quality; readily available; retail price range, $35-$40.
--Gosset NV Grande Réserve, a huge jump-up in quality; this is a super NV Brut, full-bodied and complex; its aging ability rivals that of Prestige Cuvées; made from Grand Cru and Premier Cru grapes. Mainly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; comes in half-bottles and magnums as well; retails for $55 to $60 per.750 bottle, I consider Grande Réserve to be arguably the best value in Champagne today.
--Gosset Grand Rosé NV Brut, an elegant rosé, including 58 percent Chardonnay, retails for $75 to $79; also available in half-bottles.
--Gosset’s Grand Blanc de Blancs NV Brut, an exceptionally fine Champagne made from mainly Côte des Blancs Grand Cru grapes, is a fairly new addition to Gosset’s portfolio; it retails in the $80 to $85 range. Half-bottles of Grand Blanc de Blancs will be available this fall.
--The current Gosset Millésime Brut is its very good 2006; quite drinkable now, but should age well for five years and more. It retails for $88.
--Gosset’s Prestige Cuvée, Célébris Extra Brut, is on another level. It’s one of the finest Champagnes available, in my opinion. It is made in the elegant style of Cristal, rather than, for example, the powerful Sir Winston Churchill of Pol Roger. Célébris is now made as an Extra Brut; its dosage is 4 to 5 gms.per/l. I have been acquiring Célébris since the 1995 vintage; 1996 Célébris remains exquisite. The current vintage of Célébris available is 2002 (retail, $165-$175); Célébris has all Grand Cru grapes, Chardonnay, 52 per cent, Pinot Noir, 48 per cent.
--Célébris Extra Brut Rose, is available in the 2007 vintage (retail, $150).
--My favorite Célébris of all, its Extra Brut NV Blanc de Blancs, was truly sensational, one of the best Blanc de Blancs Champagnes I have ever experienced. Gosset is currently not offering this Champagne. Please bring it back!
Gosset’s winery is in Aÿ, with an additional new winery in Epernay. Gosset is imported by Wilson Daniels.
Like Gosset, Henriot has been family-owned since its inception. Another of Champagne’s famous widows, Apolline Henriot, widow of Nicolas Simon Henriot, founded Henriot in Reims in 1808. Henriot is currently owned by Joseph Henriot’s family. Joseph Henriot, one of the true icons of Champagne, passed away in 2015.
Henriot, similar to Gosset, owns or purchases many of its grapes for its Champagne from Grand Cru villages in the Côte des Blancs (south of Epernay). Even though it is located in Reims (closer to Pinot Noir vineyards), I regard Henriot’s Champagnes as one of the great Chardonnay-influenced Champagnes.
Henriot’s Champagnes include the following:
--Champagne Henriot Souverain NV Brut; available in half-bottles;
--Champagne Henriot Blanc de Blancs NV Brut; available in half-bottles and magnums;
--Champagne Henriot NV Rosé Brut;
--Champagne Henriot Millésime Brut; current vintages are 2005 and 2006;
--Champagne Henriot Cuvée des Enchanteleurs Prestige Cuvée; available in magnums;
--Cuvée 38, a multi-vintage super Blanc de Blancs made from Grand Cru grapes; the vintages in the blend include wines from 1990 through 2008; this is Henriot’s 2nd year of releasing a Cuve 38. Bottled in magnums only.
Henriot is imported by Southern Wines & Spirits. The following is a summary of my opinions of Henriot’s Champagnes, based on recent tastings:
--Henriot NV Brut Soverain: This is the finest Souverain I have tasted from Henriot. Based on the 2011 vintage, 30 percent reserve wines in the blend, dosage, 7 gms. per/l. Two-thirds of the grapes are from Grand and Premier Cru vineyards; 50 percent Chardonnay, 50 percent Pinot Noir. At present, I would say that the Henriot NV Souverain is one of the best NV Bruts being made. Available in half-bottles and magnums. Retail price, $40-$45.
--Henriot NV Brut Blanc de Blancs: Because Henriot’s sources of its Chardonnay are so good, this is a Champagne to buy. A delightful Blanc de Blancs, also available in half-bottles and magnums. A top Champagne in the Henriot portfolio. At $47 to $55 retail, a great value.
--Henriot NV Brut Rosé: Probably the most difficult Henriot Champagne to find, because of limited importing. Henriot’s NV Rosé is elegant, with a pale, onion skin color. It ideally represents the Champagne style of this house. About $60 retail.
--Henriot Brut Millesime: Although some Henriot 2005 Millésime is still in the U.S. market, the current 2006 Henriot is the better one of the two. It is fresh and creamy, with citrus and minerally notes. The dosage is low, 6 gms.; it was disgorged six years ago, and spent a few years aging in Henriot’s cellar. The 2006 is completely enjoyable now, but can age well for several more years. Henriot’s 2005 is $76; its 2006 is retailing in the $80 to $90 range.
--Henriot Cuvée des Enchanteleurs Prestige Cuvée: Henriot’s Cuvée des Enchanteleurs is probably the best prestige cuvée that you have never heard of. It was introduced to me by a dear friend with its memorable 1988 vintage. The 1996 Enchanteleurs, equally outstanding, can still be found with some searching. The current vintage is the 2000. This prestige cuvée is available in magnums most years, but I have not found the 2000 in magnums. Every Cuvée des Enchanteleurs that I have tasted has been exquisite, complex, and quite young. Apparently, it lives forever! The 2000 retails for $180.
--Cuvée 38: This special Blanc de Blancs Champagne was the creation of the late Joseph Henriot. In 1990, he began the process of setting aside a small portion of Grand Cru Chardonnay (from four villages: Mesnil-sur-Oger, Chouilly, Avize, and Oger). Each vintage, from 1990 through 2008, contains an amount from 3 to 20 percent of the four Grand Cru villages, according to the discretion of the Cellar Master. Its dosage is 3 to 4 gms. The first blend was drawn off in 1999, and released in December, 2014. The second Cuve 38 was drawn off in 2010. And now Cuve 38, #2, has been released. I was privileged to try #2 recently. My first impression was of its amazing youthfulness. Next, I appreciated the subtlety of its complex, citrus flavors. It finish was memorably long. It should age for another two decades without a problem. It is a true collector’s dream, one of a kind. Only available in magnums, $650.
Although Gosset’s and Henriot’s more expensive Champagnes are amazing, I want to remind you how good the entire lines are, from Gosset’s Grand Réserve NV Brut to Henriot’s Souverain NV Brut and its NV Blanc de Blancs.
These are two very classy Champagne houses, definitely worth seeking out.