The Art of Champagne Blending
Illustration by Kitty N. Wong
On a sunny autumn day, we venture onto the 22nd floor of The Hennessy, home of the French fine dining restaurant Amuse Bouche. As soon as we step out of the sleek metal elevator doors, Stanislas Thiénot, general manager of Champagne Thiénot and son of its founder, Alain Thiénot, warmly greets us. Today, we would be taking a journey through the Champagne region of France, one glass at a time, with Stanislas as our guide.
We take our seats and look around the table to see curious faces at an intimate luncheon of wine aficionados. Thomas Percillier, Asia Pacific Export Director of Thiénot Bordeaux Champagnes, begins by telling us a brief history of the Thiénot House. The restaurant we are seated in on this day is the first account of Thiénot to be brought to Hong Kong, by Percillier himself. “We understand that people might not know of us yet, but we’re a small brand and proud of it,” says Percillier.
The Thiénot House was established in 1985, and with nearly 30 years in operation, the House is still in its early stages when compared to those that were established in the early 1800’s. However, they have proven to be equal contenders to the veterans, even though their wine library is even younger, with an official record beginning just seven to eight years ago.
The secret of its success lies with the experience of its founder, who worked as a grape broker for 20 years prior to starting the company. In that time, he represented an area covering as much as 10 per cent of the entire vineyard country in Champagne, France. Through this, he gained invaluable insight into where the good plots of land were, who the exceptional farmers were, and the best geographical locations of plots that produced the best grapes. It is only a true seasoned specialist that can uncover the many differences between each plot of land.
The process of making the famous sparkling wine requires two stages of fermentation, followed by an aging period of no less than a year and a half to completely develop all the flavours. To ensure consistency, various wines are blended together, and precise measurements of each wine are needed to achieve an optimal taste and flavour.
On the table before us are seven wine glasses, each of champagne in its secondary fermentation process, many of which are a different blend of chardonnay and pinot noir:
- A 100 per cent Cramant (Grand Cru) Village Chardonnay 2012
- A blend of Chardonnay Grans Crus from the 2012 vintage
- A blend of Chardonnay Grands Crus from the 2010 vintage
- A 100 per cent Ay (Grand Cru) Village Pinot Noir 2012
- A blend of pinot noir from the 2012 vintage
- The Thiénot Brut blend of 2012
- The Thiénot vintage 2012 blend
Although similar in appearance, the care and attention to detail ensures that each glass has its own unique flavour. A recurring theme we noticed, however, were the hints of fresh yellow fruit. The blend we enjoyed most was the Thiénot Brut blend of 2012, which contains a mix of wines from 80 different cru (or villages) of Champagne. Unfortunately, for those wanting to taste this blend for themselves, the final product won’t be available on the market for another four years.
Stanislas remarked, “It’s easy to make fantastic wine in small quantities, but it’s completely different on a large scale.” It is precisely the determination of this young Champagne House that drives the brand to excel in providing the best product it has to offer. From the growing of the grapes and harvest to the vinification, blending and bottling, it is the attention to detail that ensures a high quality product.
After an afternoon of champagne tasting, we left with a greater appreciation of champagne, an improved knowledge of the vinification process, and rosy cheeks. It is a rare opportunity to be shown the variety of such an exclusive, global and contemporary wine company, and to be guided by a member of the Thiénot family was a great honour in itself.