There is a saying that all great Champagnes come from villages that end with the letter “Y,” and with that in mind we headed out to Aÿ (pronounced I-ee), to meet up with the charming and delightful Claude Giraud for an interview, tasting, and tour of the facilities at The House of Henri Giraud.
It also turns out that Claude Giraud is celebrating his anniversaire (birthday) this week! So, we are paying tribute to him and all of his efforts to maintain the highest standards in hand-crafted Champagnes by dedicating our Champagne Friday post and review to his wines!
Claude Giraud is the great grandson of Henri Giraud, and he is the current head of the House of Giraud. Giraud has been a family owned and operated winery since 1625. Claude represents the 12th generation of the Giraud family.
On the label and logo of Henri Giraud, you will see two dots respectively in the top right and left corners of the “G.” The dot on the left represents the terroir of Aÿ, where the Giraud family maintain vineyards and grow grapes. The dot on the right represents the Argonne Forest, where the wood used to make their barrels come from.
I will write a separate article in the near future about the Argonne Forest, because it is such a complex and serious topic, and it deserves its own feature. So for now, I want to say that Claude has made the restoration and preservation of the Argonne Forest, outside Aÿ, his personal passion and a project that will likely become his legacy. Currently, the House of Henri Giraud is the only Champagne producer to be using new oak from the Argonne Forest. They work exclusively with two cooperage houses to craft the special barrels using oak from their local forest, where the terroir of the Argonne Oak compliments the terroir of the Aÿ soil. In 2013, House of Giraud planted 7,000 young trees to ensure the health, vitality, and sustainability of their local forest.
On the topic of terroir, it is important to mention the composition of the vineyard that compliments the Argonne Oak so well. The vineyard has approximately eight inches of topsoil that sits on top of just over 650 feet of chalk. The root growth of the plants go to a depth of nearly 100 feet, where the grape plants extract the nutrients and vital components that give the wines of Aÿ, and the House of Henri Giraud, their unique and distinctive characteristic.
Now, about those wines:
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Champagne Hommage F. Hémart Brut Grand Cru d’Ay
The Hommage is a non-vintage sparkling wine made from fresh-pressed fruit, allowed to drain free of any skin contact (what we call free-run), and does not spend any time exposed to the grape skins. This reduces tannins or any aggressive flavors and provides a fresh, bright, balanced wine. The Hommage spends six months in tank, six months in oak, and is then blended before going to bottle. When I spoke with Claude Giraud, he said that it is named Hommage because it is made as a tribute to his ancestors and makes an excellent introductory style for the house.
The Hommage has a bright burst of lemon cream that evaporates on the palate, allowing the soft apple, pear and almond to come forward.
Champagne Fût de Chêne MV Brut Grand Cru d’Ay
The MV in the Fût de Chêne stands for multi-vintage, because they blend barrels from several years with newly fermented juice to craft a truly remarkable and superb quality Champagne. It will trump any previous experience you may have had with Champagne or sparkling wine.
Made from 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay, this brut is a classic style. Due to the blending of vintages, this wine is made from almost exclusive old oak barrels (3-5 years) which allows for the oak to compliment the flavor profile without dominating.
Expect almonds, rose hips, white cherry, very light oak on the finish.
Special note : For a limited number of buyers, we are offering the Fût de Chêne in a six bottle wood crate. This will surely make for one of the most exciting and unexpected gifts your loved one discovers, or… show up to the chalet for that weekend of snow-season fun, ensuring there will always be something rewarding to enjoy at the end of a perfect day. Or, arrive at your NYE party with a wood crate full of exquisite Champagne, a entrance that would make Gatsby proud!
Champagne Fût de Chêne MV Rosé Brut Grand Cru d’Aÿ
What can we say except we love rosé! This beauty is made from 100% Pinot noir, in the same multi-vintage blended style, and is evocative of sweet cream, rose petals, almonds, and spring time. Perfect on its own or paired with something warm and creamy, like fondue, or a potato or pasta dish in a cheese or cream sauce. No tomatoes for this one.
Champagne Argonne Brut 2004 Grand Cru d’Aÿ
Deep golden in color, aromas of honey, beeswax, licorice with gentle nose of apricots, all embodied in a refined and delicate mousse- the Argonne Champagne is complex and intense with amazing length to the finish. Serve as an aperitif with shavings of parmesan or as accompaniment to roasted duck with pear and apricot, or pan-fried beef fillet.
NV Giraud Champagne Espirit Brut
The Esprit flows with layers of mineral infused fruit in a rich, textured style. Though firmly structured, it is open and accessible, with a creamy intensity and a crisp, lingering finish. It is composed of 70% Pinot noir and 30% Chardonnay, and fermented in stainless steel where it was kept without racking for a year prior to bottling.
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