The Finest Champagne House You've Never Heard Of

A favourite among oenophiles, champagne house Henri Giraud makes impeccable cuvées that strike a fine balance between richness and finesse.

Unless you are a champagne geek, Champagne Henri Giraud is the kind of label that would fly under your radar. The boutique champagne house makes just 250,000 bottles from 10 hectares of Grand Cru vineyards in the region of Ay. (Champagne’s big boys, Taittinger and Louis Roederer, for example, each produce more than three million bottles a year.) It’s such a hidden gem that Robert Parker once suggested that it is quite possibly ‘the finest champagne house you’ve never heard of’

Nestled in the village of Aÿ in France, the Henri Giraud estate – which sprawls across 10 hectares of the Giraud family’s vineyards and 15 hectares of land belonging to suppliers, partners and family friends – does away with the modern stainless-steel vessels that are commonly used to transform grapes into wines. Instead, the team conducts primary fermentations in oak sourced from the Argonne forest located just 56km from the estate. The oak is responsible for injecting flavour and aromatic nuances to the wine while adding richness and complexity.

The estate is run by 12th generation owner Claude Giraud, who took over from his father, Henri, in 1983. “If you visit the Girauds’ property [in Ay], you’ll notice that it’s not spectacular like the other big maisons. But Claude and their team are so welcoming of visitors. You get this real connection with the winemakers and the entire winemaking process,” says Julien Drevon from Pivēne - Henri Giraud’s exclusive distributor in Singapore

Since Ay is home to Pinot Noir, most of the estate’s wines are Pinot Noir- dominant blends. The black grape lends ripe fruit notes and structure to champagnes. Henri Giraud’s wines have this pleasant weight; a firm, round presence that holds the flavours together like a net. Perennial favourites that provide a true signature style for the house are the wonderfully nuanced Esprit Nature Brut NV, the newly released Hommage au Pinot Noir and the sublime MV cuvée - formerly referred to as ‘Fût de Chêne

The new Hommage au Pinot Noir is essentially a Blanc de Noirs champagne and, as its name suggests, the cuvée is a tribute to this major grape variety of champagne, and king of this great House. Hommage au Pinot Noir is vinified and matured for 12 months on whole lees, in small oak barrels, then 6 months on fine lees. It will then age nobly for at least 3 years in the cellars in order to expand its aromatic palette. With a fine bubble and notes of yellow fruits and spices, the palate is bold and vibrant with a smooth silky texture is silky that ends with a wonderful hint of salinity.

Lees are the magic behind many a delicious champagne. If you have ever entered a champagne cellar, you would have picked out an aroma of toasted bread that makes your stomach growl – that is lees, calling out to you.

Arguably, the maison’s most famous creation (though not its top expression), is the immaculate MV cuvée. Lovingly referred to as Fût de Chêne – ‘barrel of oak’ -, MV is a multi- vintage that spends five years on lees, making it a more balanced, complex version of the Hommage. There are wonderful notes of apple, cherries, almonds, honeysuckle and smoked cheese form its core, which is almost perfectly sliced apart by a crisp, zippy acidity.

However it is at the very summit of the house’s expressions where the world’s most rabid oenophiles look for joy. The almost impossibly good Argonne cuvée, is rightly deemed to be one of the worlds’ finest champagnes and is consistently ranked among the very best expressions money can buy. A deep, gold-coloured elixir that emits hints of honey, beeswax and liquorice with subtle accents of apricots and raisins, Argonne - like many of Girauds other cuvées - can be found in the world’s most revered Michelin- starred restaurants from Las Vegas, New York, London, Paris to Shanghai, Singapore and Tokyo.

Creators of the world’s most renowned and most revered wines will concur that the journey to achieving excellence in the craft of champagne – or wine-making - is a lifelong process but for the team at Champagne Henri Giraud - whilst many of its celebrated bottlings have reached cult status with connoisseurs - the house isn’t ready to rest on its laurels just yet