Henri's Reserve: Curating France's Finest Boutique Champagnes...in CT

Emma Jane-Doody Stetson

Did you know that October 25 was actually Champagne Day?  So we don’t get the day off and the postal service still delivers, but it is, in fact, a holiday celebrated worldwide.  

In honor of the occasion, Ruth Frantz of Henri’s Reserve hosted a champagne tasting at Southport Galleries in Southport, CT.  She invited an assortment of clients, friends, foodies, wine enthusiasts, writers, and bloggers to try some of the beautiful champagnes she carries.  

Henri’s Reserve is an interesting concept.  While many of us are used to going to stores to pick up a bottle of wine, all of Ruth’s sales are done online.  She represents small, family owned champagnes.  Many of her offerings are relatively unknown; she advocates them because she believes in them.

Interestingly enough, Frantzgot her start dealing with larger champagne houses.  One of her first restaurant jobs was with Eleven Madison Park.  During her there, she encountered a number of delicious grower champagnes and lesser known bottles.  At the same time, she observed that commercialized bottles overshadowed them on wine lists.  She felt that these smaller production beauties were not receiving the recognition they deserved.  Ultimately, she struck out on her own with Henri’s Reserve to champion them.

Frantz brought a variety of champagnes to the event for us to try.  Rather than line them up in an organized tasting, she had a corner of the gallery allocated as a “bar” of sorts.  Guests could come up to it, get a small pour of whatever bottle happened to be open, and go on to peruse the room with a flute in hand.  The selection included Blancs de Blancs, Brut, Rose, and Blanc de Noirs.

“Many people are new to champagne so I wanted them to learn about different styles,” she explained to me. 

Of the Blancs de Blancs, the two bottles from Guibort Fils stood out to me the most: a non-vintage Grand Cru and a 2006 Grand Cru.  They herald from Cramant, one of Frantz’s favorite regions for champagne.  The non-vintage bottling consisted of Chardonnay.  I found it light, delicious, and easy drinking.  The 2006 was Frantz’s personal favorite of the evening.

“I just started carrying it- I really love it!,” she proclaimed enthusiastically.

It’s easy to see why.  It contains the same refreshing profile as the first, but with more crispness and bubbles.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Brut offerings as well.  My favorite bottle from that section came from a winemaker named Egly-Ouriet (a name that I butcher in pronunciation).  I tried the Grand Cru which is 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. It had the perfect balance of fruit, flower, and bubble.  Though still relatively small and unknown, Frantz sees great promise for his wines.

“This is one of those champagne makers everyone watches,” she told me.  “This is very special.”

In addition to the Egly Ouriet, I got to try a non-vintage and a 2002 champagne from H. Blin.  The NV was a combination of Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay while the vintage contained a touch of Pinot Noir as well.  The NV had a distinct toasty character.  It’s no wonder that it is the pouting champagne at the 4 Seasons.  It is an incredible value at $45 a bottle.  The vintage is equally delicious.  It is slightly rounder and silkier than its counterpart.

“You can feel the pinot,” Frantz said.

There was one champagne in my favorite color- pink- as well.  Frantz chose the H. Billiot Grand Cru for the event’s Rose.  It is especially close to her heart because it comes from a female winemaker.

The final bottle, a Jean Laurent Blanc de Noir, was meant largely to educate.  It mostly was comprised of Pinot Noir- a departure from many others that frequently use white varietals somewhere in the blend.

“It’s fun to educate people about a whole new style!” she said while enthusiastically pouring a taste for me.

So how does a champagne based in Pinot Noir maintain its light, golden color?

“When you smoosh Pinot Noir it’s white juice!” she relayed.

Sweet & Simple Bakery, Le Rouge Handmade Chocolates, Wave Hill Breads, and Fairfield Cheese Company, provided an assortment of small bites for the event.  They were situated around the room so that guests could mingle, look at the artwork in the gallery, and make their way from table to table.

Sweet & Simple Bakery’s fun spread of colorful cookies and brownies captured my attention immediately.  The bakery was started by Michelle Jaffee, a mom and home cook with an affinity for baking.   She envisioned a warm, inviting shop that specialized in small batch, made from scratch baked goods.  He achieved her dream; Sweet and Simple has been open for about a year in Southport, CT.

“Being around her is contagious,” says Sweet and Simple member Carrie Shalley. “You can’t help but be happy.

In addition to offering baked goods for purchase, they also put together welcome packages and gift baskets for local businesses and hotels.   They even will even make care packages to send to people off in college!  They pride themselves on freshness and commitment to quality; all of their ingredients are natural and local.

Le Rouge Handmade Chocolates offered another sweet fix.  Stylistically, they mirror the French.  When the woman handed me a small chocolate disc with fig and pistachio on top, she told me that a bite like this would be found in “every shop in Paris.”  I noticed a touch of Middle Eastern influence as well.  A version of the English toffee was infused with Indian Tea and one of the truffle flavors was lentil and saffron.  Le Rouge specializes in truffles, but they have a number of other offerings.  To learn more, visit: http://www.lerougebyaarti.com/ .

Guests also tried samples from Wave Hill Breads, and artisanal bakery in Norwalk.  They brought three loaves for people to try: Three-Grain Olive & Roasted Red Pepper Ciabatta, American Whole Grain Multi-Grain, and their signature Country Bread.  They strive to make traditional breads that marshal feelings of nostalgia.  “We hear it in the words of older folks who tell us how our bread reminds them of their mothers’ big round loaves coming out of the oven decades ago,” they say in their mission.  But are they afraid that new crazes, like gluten-free diets, could overshadow them?

“We’re not really responding to that.  We’re servicing the majority,” says Mitch Rapoport who attended that afternoon.  “Traditional bakers are proud of gluten.”

I enjoyed the bread immensely.  The grains tasted fresh.  They provided texture and density without feeling overly heavy.  Wave Hill Breads can be purchased from Farmer’s Markets, select local grocery stores, and are even served in area restaurants.  For more information, visit: http://www.wavehillbreads.com/index.html .

As the event drew to a close, Ruth Frantz stopped to raise her glass to all of the people who came together to make the day festive and received thanks in return.  

“Henri’s Reserve isn’t about marketing… it’s just about great champagne!” Frantz relayed.

The room confirmed her words.  All around, people nursed beautiful artisanal champagnes with smiles on their faces.

To learn more about Henri’s Reserve or order champagne, please visit http://www.henrisreserve.com/ .