A wine list is, in astrological terms, the Moon and the Mercury of any establishment. What is chosen and how it’s served is the very essence of the venue itself. Yet even before the food, I zero in on the sparkling list – particularly what’s by the glass. In fact, the mark of a good, flexible eatery – I hate the word but I can’t keep saying restaurant – is a consistently good BTG wine list. That’s a rock I’ll stand on.
I criticised the temperature of their Laurent Perrier, saying it was too warm. But too cold and you can’t taste a thing. With BTG, there are no excuses not to put your palate first
Wine lists are where my champagne education began and continues. Henriot was a brand I didn’t know until I saw it by the glass at J. Sheekey’s in London. I tasted my first glass of Henriot Brut Souverain there, but I could have necked a glass of Gimonnet, Moët & Chandon, Perrier-Jouët, Roederer or even Krug if I dared as well. So, right there, you have a great selection from which to taste and take notes, being rude to everyone else at the table. Along with going to wineries and tastings, BTG teaches you things. Don’t worry what the waiter will think. How a place handles its bottles, what state are then in once opened, says a lot. At Glasgow’s Ubiquitous Chip, I criticised the temperature of their Laurent Perrier, saying it was too warm. But too cold and you can’t taste a thing. With BTG, there are no excuses not to put your palate first.
London has mighty BTG choice. For instance, the lovely Bellamy’s – winner of Tatler Magazine’s Most Civilised Restaurant Award – has four champagnes by the glass, including the stunning Ayla Rosé Majeur, a deliciously memorable rosé which makes me want to crawl there on my knees. SOLA in Soho serves two Billecart-Salmon, each refined and remarkable. Paladar serves, uniquely it seems, only Latin American wines, including BTG sparkly ones from Brazil, Argentina and Chile. A new favourite, The Maddox Tavern on Maddox Street serves the lovely Laurent-Perrier La Cuvée NV by the glass with Marie Courtin, Krug 169th Edition and a nice Dom 2012 by the bottle too.
The painted florals of Perrier-Jouët and Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque at The Groucho are available BTG. The mesmeric precious metal bottle-covers of Héloïse-LLoris (more on that next column) as poured at Sexy Fish and Annabel’s are not BTG yet but Sexy Fish does serve glasses of Henriot, Ruinart, Dom Perignon, Nyetimber, Perrier-Jouët and Bollinger.
Out of London, Gareth Ward’s multiple Michelin-starred Ynyshir in Wales commits to the UK with Gusbourne (fine English Sparkling) BTG. “In keeping with the nature of our restaurant, I am an avid believer in the wine being produced by English wine makers Gusbourne,” says Rory Eaton, Wine & Beverage Director of Ynyshir. “I am proud to offer four, with the recent release of 51°N, of their wines by the glass. I honestly feel as though they are pushing for English sparkling to have its own voice, rather than riding the coattails of champagne houses – a style that can truly be recognised as coming from the UK.” Near Peterborough, The George of Stamford has a solid, affordable selection of champagne Le Mesnil, Taittinger (including Nocturne) along with Nyetimber, which is the champagne-fallback for those who sort of know about English Sparkling but still don’t trust it.
Back to the refined, divine Henriot. Yes, my first encounter was at Sheekey’s, the theatre district’s darling heart. But Henriot is at home in Hollywood’s Waldorf Astoria, Tokyo’s Restaurant Apicius and London’s Four Seasons Hotel at Ten Trinity Square as well. From Vancouver, Tromsø, Rome, New York, Poland, Hong Kong, Macau to Hangzhou, Sydney, Taipei and Singapore, Henriot lingers in very swanky spots. This international profile is remarkable, considering it remains one of the few – and longest lasting – family-run and independent champagne houses. Currently headed by Gilles de Larouzière Henriot, an 8th generation Henriot, that fact may make some wish to combust into song with, “I’m Henriot VIII, I Am”, the 1910 British musical hall song made popular in 1965 by Herman’s Hermits’. But don’t.
As with so many champagne houses, a widow left her mark on Henriot. Apolline Henriot, youthful widow of Nicolas, founded the house in 1808, aimed at “shining a light on her lands through Champagne.” Le sigh. In 1880, Paul Henriot, 4th generation, married a woman with Grand Crus in the Côte des Blancs, land in Avize, Choilly and Mesnil-sur-Oger. Planted mainly with chardonnay and pinot noir, Henriot retains only the best (what I’d expect of a champagne house) to mix with reserve wines in an unprecedented proportion of Premiers and Grands Crus from pinots and chardonnays. Long ageing and low dosage choices produce a champagne that is fresh and flexible. Henriot’s “standard bearer” Blanc de Blancs is complex with a lengthy savour. Precise, refined and light, it’s not fussy or fading. Aromatically rich, this BDB is neither boring, strict or formulaic. In short, Henriot tastes alive. As Nick Baker of The Finest Bubble says, “Every time I taste the champagnes from Henriot, particularly their Blanc de Blancs I am always reminded how much value they offer; made in the reductive style, so no oak, these are super pure with intense fruit.”
The recent launch of Henriot L’Inattendue 2016 unleashed one hell of a bottle. The first of a series and a break from Henriot’s traditional house style of blending a range of crus, this series will focus on a single village annually. This one is terroir-honed, single-vineyard champagne powerhouse with unexpected verve. The 100% chardonnay from Grand Cru Avize is on lees for 4 years with a dosage of 4 g/l, so low. Pale gold with a tiny, energised bead, it’s translucent, lush fruit splayed against chalk with a tiny croissant floating around in there somewhere. Citrus, pineapple and vanilla whiffs melded with focused acid creates a very stimulating orchestra. At the finish, a tinier swash of citrus and a touch of cream.
My notes say, “Louder than the others,” a positive expression. Gilles said, “What you expect from Avize is the laser, the Japanese blade, the tension and the precision, the incisive freshness of this fantastic terroir and… we have that with L’inattendue in 16.” Given that I tasted this in a rammed party in Knightsbridge, it’s remarkable, even for its youth. This is a champagne that cuts through the noise. C