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Champagne tasting notes

text and photographs © 2007 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on Vintage Champagne.


Claude Giraud has vineyards in the district of Aÿ, and produces two labels: Champagne Francois Hemart and Champagne Henri Giraud. Francois Hemart is a non-vintage range, with all fruit coming from Grand Cru villages in Aÿ, whilst wines under the Giraud label are only released as vintage wines, again with all fruit from the best vineyard sites in Aÿ. The vintage wine sells for upwards of 100 euros per bottle, putting it slap-bang in prestige cuvée territory.

Claude tells me that Aÿ is known for low acidity, on average yielding only around 4gm/l of total acidity. Yet despite this, Claude's wines do go through malolactic, and he harvests late. He pays great attention to the 'natural balance' of the harvest, and finds that carefully managed S02 levels are one of the keys to the ageability of his wines.

   In Champagne there are around 150 houses that vinify in wooden barrels. Claude started to use barrels in the early 80s, after researching how Champagne was made in previous centuries. He found that the local Forest of Argonne had been the source of much of the village's wood, but the forest having not been managed for decades, he bought 2nd hand Vosges barrels from Meursault.

Now, Claude has worked with other growers in the village and has managed to revive a barrel industry in the Argonne Forest, and is proud of these barrels in his cellars. The Henri Giraud wines spend 12 months in wood.

Claude explains that his 10 hectares of vineyard is on a south-facing slopes with only 20cm of topsoil on 200 metres of chalk. His youngest vineyard is 30 years old, and he farms with minimum use of chemicals.

He believes the reason he can make a vintage every year is because of the quality of his vineyards, and the care he takes of them. Certainly a tasting of Vin Clair from oak was extraordinary: a round, full Chardonnay of 12% ABV, as rich and mouthfilling as a white Burgundy.

See current stockists of Henri Giraud on wine-searcher.

Francois Hemart Brut Grand Cru
Briefly, Giraud's non-vintage is worth a mention as it is a terrific Champagne with fat, lemony fruit and real structure, whilst the two vintages tasted showed the ripeness and richness of Giraud's vineyards and his use of oak.

Champagne Henri Giraud Grand Cru Fut de Chêne 1998
70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay. Quite a bold lemony colour with green reflections. Very fine nose, with just little lime zest notes and almost tropical hints of waxy citrus fruit and some ripe cherry nuances. There are hints of dried apricot in a subtle, stylish nose. In the mouth the mousse is quite fine and races across the tongue, with very crisp fruit - lots of lemon and lime that is zesty and racy. There's breadth and a mouthfilling weight, but it stays very focused and structured. 91.

Champagne Henri Giraud Grand Cru Fut de Chêne 1993
Darker, burnished golden colour. More mature, truffle and undergrowth notes with a toffeed element and quite ripe, cabbagy notes not unlike a ripe white Burgundy. Low carbonation, with a gentley prickly mousse, and again a very nicely lively palate. Racy orange notes, and loads of zippy lemon fruit and acidity. Lovely boiled sweet edges of sour plum and green apple, and fine length here. Just a hint of sweet fruited and buttery richness, but stays razor sharp in the finish. Very fine. 93.

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