Champagne is one of those things that everyone seems to know what their favourite is and it wasn’t until and because I was nearing my trip to Champagne that someone asked me to declare my favourite style.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“But you must have a favourite”. This was terrible, like adult peer pressure. “Come on, your favourite style, what is it?”
I was tempted to blurt out a big name, I mean I did go to the Mumm tent at the Grand Prix once and I totally loved that. But I stuck to the truth, “No, I really don’t have one”.
I wasn’t trying to be; but I did begin to wonder how it was that I got to this point in life with so many other achievements and failed to know my favourite Champagne style. Was this serious?
Upon reflection I came up with two reasons. First, I had never properly engaged with Champagne. Not so much the drink but the thing that Champagne represents for the masses which, outside of the actual place and winemaking, has is a bit more ‘ya’ and ‘cha’ than me. Knowing there was so much more to Champagne, I never felt I had done enough work to take a stand, so I just ignored it and opted for the still white wine offering as the trays came past.
The other reason I didn’t know my preferred Champagne style is because I don’t like picking a favourite anything. This naturally makes someone at home quite nervous but to me, choosing a favourite is like declaring yourself closed to all future possibilities, like stopping right where you are.
So there I was, in Champagne without any Champagne preferences. It was time I developed some.
I was with Marie-Noëlle Rainon-Henriet, the fifth generation of her family to be in the Champagne business and who runs Henriet-Bazin Champagne with her father, Daniel Henriet. Her husband Nicolas was translating.
“Each cuvée we make is a different person with its very own different character.”
The Champenoise like to anthropomorphise. I found it both charming and helpful.
Of the eight cuvées in the Champagne Henriet-Bazin range, and using the cuvée-as-a-character idea, we were focusing on three wines – the Champagne Traditional, the Champagne Blanc De Blanc and the Champagne Blanc De Noir.
“This person is a good balance of the terroir,” said Marie-Noëlle of the first, the Traditional Champagne made from pinot noir and chardonnay. “It is not a slick guy from the city, nor a farmer from the vines, but a good balance of both.”
I know this guy, I thought. Solid, family man, gentrified farmer, knows how to fix a fence and decant a wine. Sure, I get this. I took another sip. I liked him, but he was never going to be my favourite.
Next up was the Henriet-Bazin Blanc de Blanc Champagne made from 100% chardonnay grapes. “This is a female,” she said, lifting her nose from the flute. “Yes, definitely a feminine character with lots of finesse and elegance.”
Why yes, to taste this Champagne was feminine. All light and lovely with wafts of white flowers and honey, a lick of minerality and a long and lovely length. Finesse and elegance: I could do that. Maybe I was a Blanc De Blanc girl. Perhaps I could do favourites after all. Besides, this was a delightful wine.
Finally, we tasted the Blancs de Noirs Grand Cru, the wine made with 100% pinot noir grapes, the variety which gives the Champagne fullness, richness, strength and power. “This is the tough guy, the powerful guy, but he is not just one dimensional, not like a football player who is only about strength. He is strong but he can also move. A dancer.”
Well, yes, I thought, noting the fuller pinot noir aromas and the rich and opulent palate – the power. As I tasted I noticed something else, something more fluid, attractive. Without thinking I said, “It’s still a very elegant style.”
“Yes! You see? The dancer.”
I was all over this.
Marie-Noëlle went a step further, saying she can also use her intimate knowledge of the cuvée s to pick wine for guests, even those she doesn’t know. A sort of oenological character profiling, if you like.
“We can tell just by looking at people what sort of cuvée they will be,” she said. “If we have a worker with dust on his boots—”
Before she could finish, I said, “The Traditional.”
Tres bien. I was so with them. I couldn’t wait to hear what they thought my new favourite wine, the Blanc de Blanc, said about me.
“This,” they said, giggling between themselves, “this we always know to pour for the girl who turns up with the big blonde hair, the high heels and lots of make up.”
Like I said, who needs favourites anyway?