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Robert Parker on Champagne Henri Giraud: « That is the way I think Krug SHOULD taste »

26 mars 2013 No Comment
Champagne Henri Giraud

Just a few weeks after Robert Parker's comments on Champagne Henri Giraud, Claude Giraud is currently meeting some journalists and champagne fans in the USA to introduce the new 2002 Argonne. Robert Parker who had the chance to taste this chammpagne recently wrote on www.erobertparker.com : "A 3/4s pinot noir, 1/4th chardonnay barrel aged cuvee that is the way I think Krug SHOULD taste (too many recent VINTAGE KRUGS have been too oxidized for my taste, hence I prefer their Grande Cuvee). This is pedal to the metal, balls to the walls full-bodied, nutty, rich and decadent Champagne, and as rich as wines from this region can be-Grand Cru white Burgundy with bubbles might be a better analogy. Just a spectacular Champagne…".

As the French Magazine Terre de Vins wrote (read below the english translation), some more news draw attention to Champagne Henri Giraud that has just been named “Champagne House 2013” by the Scandinavian magazine Fine Wine International: Sponsored by the ONF (the National Forest Office), the Ateliers of the Champagne house Henri Giraud will unveil, as a world premiere on the 21st and 22nd of April, the results of 25 years of research on the ageing of wine in oak barrels. Renowned wine professionals from every continent have been invited to validate this work sponsored by ONF.

As Claude Giraud puts it: "History knows no wine that is not associated with a forest. However, I have always been struck by an oddity: major winemakers, who are generally very picky and rigorous, use barrels made by many different coopers to make their wine. Our work with stave maker, Camille Gauthier, who has been very involved in forest traceability for forty years, shows that this frustrating approach is ultimately an impasse. It demonstrates a need that winemakers silently hope for because, unfortunately, the French forest traceability process is currently still in its infancy. Very little progress has been made since the 1960s. The results of our research measure the coming needed and expected revolution in making fine wines and forest management."

Read below "Henri Giraud Champagne, the roots of the terroir" (the english translation of the article in French Magazine Terre de Vins

A family business , based in Aÿ for generations, Henri Giraud stands out from the crowd thanks to his remarkable work on wine producing using oak casks, as well as his work on the idea of forest terroirs. Twenty-five years of hard graft have earned him the respect of even the greatest wine buffs, including Robert Parker…

Three recent important developments at Henri Giraud. Firstly, this venerable family business (whose Champagne production goes back to at least the 17th Century) has just been named “Champagne House 2013” by the Scandinavian magazine Fine Wine International. Next? The widely respected Robert Parker has just given the Argonne 2002 cuvée a rave review, saying “that is the way I think Krug should taste”. Bad luck for anyone wanting to sample the contents of the elegant bottle (with an average price ticket of €250) – the 8,000 bottles produced are selling like hotcakes.

The third piece of news, and certainly the most important: on the 21st and 22nd of April the house will officially reveal the results of its 25 years of research on oak cask winemaking and the link between terroir of the vines and the forest land itself.

Great wines, great forests

“There are no great wines of history without great forests,” says Claude Giraud, who has been leading a quiet revolution from his family business for some 25 years. In 1990 he started to buy grapes from family and neighbouring winemakers. Most important of all, he made the most of the excellent quality vintage, beginning an oak-made grande cuvée. So began the “Fût de Chêne” cuvée from the house of Henri Giraud, the opening gambit in a discussion on the relationship between wine and wood.

This discussion was based on a single idea: The Argonne Forest, the largest forest in the vicinity of the Champagne region was, until the 1950s, the primary source of wood for the casks used by Champagne winemakers. “Then we started to use external coopers,” says Claude Giraud. “We sometimes used several different coopers for a single cellar, using natural wood from different sources and only one treatment – heat. Things haven’t changed much since the 1960s.”

Interactive vinification

By looking at the Argonne Forest, Claude Giraud wanted to explore how “local” oak interacted with “local” wine. With the help of Camille Gauthier, a French staves expert, he began a long phase of research on the “traceability of casks” and their organoleptic footprint. As Giraud explains, like the grape, you can “taste the wood. It has different notes, affected by age, by soil… soft, round, bitter…” The first big step in this research was the 2002 production of the Argonne cuvée, produced exclusively in new casks made from Argonne wood. “This vintage is a little star, the very best of our precision” enthuses Giraud. “Here, the wood isn’t just an ingredient, and certainly isn’t a sort of makeup. Vinification in oak casks gives the wine life like never before. It is interactive vinification, interaction between the lands and soils of Aÿ and Argonne”.

During the following decade, Claude Giraud shifted into the next gear. In 2003, with the support of the French Forestry Commission (the ONF), he bought “set up” oak trees in the Argonne forest. In 2005 he organised a comparative tasting between four “white wine” forests. The result was that the Argonne forest was perfectly matched with wines from Champagne, while Saint Palais was perfectly matched with the Coteaux Champenois. Gradually, he identified four lieux-dits with two soil types – gaize (chalky sandstone) and green clay. It became gradually clear that the geology of the soil influenced the character of the oak as well as the vine itself. Such a revelation gave new options and perspectives when it came to assemblage and vinification. “On tasting, links between types of wood, types of terroirs, types of juice became clear. We started to be able to focus on tones, on contrasts…” Certainly an empirical and sensorial method that, since 2006 has doubled up as research on oak’s DNA. The results of this work are still pending.

Comparative tasting

This is certainly no quick fix. It takes between 180 and 200 years for oak to reach full maturity. The challenge comes in obtaining the very best raw materials (Henri Giraud brings in some 80 casks per year, on which he performs a five year rotation, playing with the different cuvées). He remains fully invested throughout the process while waiting for replanting…

Today, Ateliers Henri Giraud wants professionals and laypeople alike to discover this quarter century of research on the “terroir effect” on oak. On the 21st and 22nd April there will be a trail walk and picnic in the Argonne Forest. The event will be used to launch the patronage operation with the French Forestry Commission (ONF). Every Argonne Cuvée bottle sold will go towards replanting of the forest. There will be a comparative tasting based on land areas, allowing the public to try the same wine, produced in casks from different areas. Claude Giraud thinks that this will be quite a revelation: “pieces of land in the same forest, only a few miles apart can produce completely different notes, easily identifiable during tasting, regardless of cut of wood, length of drying of the staves or which cooper is used”. The guiding principle? The constant of the “signature of the great Aÿ terroirs, the identity of true Champagnes. Generous, unctuous, of both pleasure and substance”. Make sure you get your place at the tasting!

(Write to VitaBella Wine info@vitabella.fr)

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