Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with Benoit Gouez, the charismatic Chef de Cave of Moet & Chandon. Benoit was traveling through the U.S. to speak with Sommeliers and wine buyers -- Champagne lovers throughout the country.
Moet & Chandon has always been a leader in Champagne, and today they take their role differently than in the past. Today, as Benoit points out, they are more active in explaining their positions.
"I think that people expect leaders to show the way. We have been discreet for a while, for some years now we are back explaining what we do."
One demonstrable method of showing off the quality of Moet & Chandon is to taste it. During our meeting, we tasted the recent 2004 Grand Vintage, followed by the 1993, the 1983, and finally the 1973. As in many great vintage Champagnes, there is a "house style" that lets a taster know there are similarities, but at the same time, each vintage has its own personality.
Benoit describes the "house style" as,
"Distinctive, bright fruitiness, seductive palate and elegant maturity born of the slow, gradual progression from vine to cellar and the interlocking, complementary skills of vine growers, vat men, cellar men, oenologists, and other professionals, all under the guidance of the Chef de Cave."
When vintage Champagne is tasted, the vintage itself plays a role in the unique flavors of a wine. Champagne is the most northerly of all wine production regions in France. What does the specific vintage bring in terms of what the harvest provided? Benoit elaborated on the advantages of being the largest landholder in Champagne.
"Bigger is better! In the northern climate of Champagne, the quality, size, and diversity of our vineyards and grape supplies gives us unique advantages enjoyed by no others. We have the luxury of choosing the best. Our ability to select from a wide range of grapes is as essential to the constancy of the Imperial range as it is to the originality of the Grand Vintages.
In Champagne, we blend grape varieties, villages, and years due to the challenges with climate. In that context, the more diversity you get in your grapes, the more chance you have to get the right and complementary ones. Moet & Chandon owns the largest estate in Champagne with 1,150 hectares of prime vineyards. Combined with our contracted grapes, we get supply from more than 230 villages, giving unrivalled nuances to our wines.
We believe in customized, adaptable oenology with minimum intervention in order to preserve the natural diversity of the grapes, vineyards, and vintages. Having at our disposal an infinite variety of nuances with which to create our assemblages enables the precision necessary for maintaining our House style. We do not force Nature; we guide Her.
People too often and too easily associate big with industrial, and small with craftsmanship. I don't oppose myself size and quality. Craftmanship at Moet & Chandon is a mindset. It is about the details, precision, flexibility, adaptation... far from reproducing a recipe."
MOET & CHANDON
Grand Vintage 2004
Assemblage: 38% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir, 29% Pinot Meunier
Disgorged: January 2012
Notes: Vintage was a huge quantity with no botrytis. The wine is pale yellow, youthful, and clean. Lemony backbone with persistent beads, minerality, and bright understated fruit.
Grand Vintage 1993
Assemblage: 30% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier
Disgorged: November 2011
Notes: Slightly darker yellow to golden. Some yeasty characteristics. Persistent bead. A bit toastier, but still lively. Fruit characteristics on the citrus side show through.
Grand Vintage 1983
Assemblage: Chardonnay 40%, Pinot Noir 60%
Disgorged: May 2001
56th Vintage (Commemorating Moet & Chandon's 250th Anniversary) Never released, and not available.
Notes: This is a Champagne from a vintage 30 years ago that drinks very youthfully. The color slightly more golden. Benoit said it had been stored in large wooden aged casks. The beads are less persistent, and yeastier, more toward the flavor profile of baked apples or pears. Really delicious!!!!!
Grand Vintage 1973
Disgorged: November 2002
Notes: Holy freakin' sh_t!!!!! Now I can die in peace. Less persistent beading, but the yeasty, creamy, aged qualities are still balanced by a countering mellowed acidity. Something very special.