News-Antique.com - Jan 27,2008 - Established in 1757, Henri Abelé is the third oldest champagne house still trading and one with an interesting history closely linked with innovations in champagne-making.
In 1834, Auguste Ruinart de Brimont, great-nephew of the founder, teamed up with Antoine Muller, former chef de caves at Veuve Clicquot, who had helped the Widow Clicquot develop the technique of remuage. Fifty years later, in 1884, dégorgement à la glace, the method of disgorging now used throughout the champagne industry, was invented in the Abelé cellars. In 1942, control of the firm passed to the Compagnie Française des Grands Vins, and in 1985 the firm was purchased by Freixenet, the giant producers of Cava sparkling wine. José Ferrer Sala, head of Freixenet, after tasting Henri Abelé champagne for the first time, refused to buy a bottle. Was he disappointed? Underwhelmed? Not a bit. Señor Ferrer so liked the wine that he decided to buy the company.
The style of the Abelé champagnes is reputedly dry, delicate and floral. That is certainly true of the non-vintage Cuvée Sourire de Reim, so named after the guardian angel of Reims Cathedral who grins at you from the label. It is an excellent, consistent wine, light gold in colour, with tiny bubbles, its flowery yet mellow character coming from an unusual composition for a non-vintage cuvée - up to 60 per cent Chardonnay, 30 per cent Pinot Meunier, and 10 per cent Pinot Noir - and a rather longer aging period in the bottle, I would guess, than the modest two to two-and-a-half years claimed for it by the house. The non-vintage Rosé Brut is a less subtle but flavoury wine; pink-coloured with a copper tinge, its zesty style may be due to the skin contact method used to partially colour the champagne; it finishes with a slightly caramelized note, however, that for me militates against finesse. The vintage wines are a bit uneven in quality. Predominantly Pinot Noir, the 1982 Grande Marque Impériale seems to be losing its fruit, tastes low in acidity and by the House's own admission is less successful than the 1976 and the 1975 vintages. The 1983 Grande Marque Impériale is better than the 1982, with crisper definition of flavour and a better fruit-to-acid balance. In a different league is the Blanc de Blancs Réserve du Repas, a wine made only in great years. The 1983 is a beauty, impeccably dry but with the mellow creamy perfection of flavour that comes from top-flight Chardonnay champagne which is allowed to mature properly for a decade.
Michel Arnould and his son Patrick are typical of Champagne growers whose grand cru grapes are much in demand for the blends of the grandes marques.
Arnould still grows for Bollinger, although he also now makes and markets his champagnes under the Arnould label from his 12 hectares/30 acres of superbly sited vineyards at Verzenay. Arnould champagnes are distinguished from other growers' monocrus by their breed, balance and creamy texture. Their wines are every bit as