"Champagne is all about sharing - it's a rich, passion-filled world. I love to share. I love dinners with friends, good conversation, exchanging ideas and different points of view. I love to celebrate, to make every moment in life as good as it can be." - Benoît Gouez, Moët & Chandon, Chef de Cave
The only things more luminous than the crystal-cool ambiance of the swanky Baccarat Hotel were the elegant Moët & Chandon champagnes in our glasses and winemaker Benoît Gouez's ebullient personality. Tasting champagne with Benoît was a beautiful reminder that our best wine experiences are often shaped by places and people.
Founded in 1743, Moët & Chandon is such an iconic brand that it is easy to forget that a real person is behind their production of seemingly endless bottles of bubbly. Benoît has been Chef de Cave at Moët & Chandon since 2005. He doesn't come from a family of vintners but has demonstrated that he possesses the intuition and talent needed to craft wines that are true to Moët & Chandon's legacy yet absolutely contemporary. It has become somewhat trendy to dismiss the larger Champagne houses like Moët & Chandon as less artistic and innovative than smaller entities but as Benoît adroitly pointed out in our conversation, larger houses like Moët & Chandon have resources that allow for experimentation and innovation. They also have the luxury of choosing the best grapes, from the best vineyards.
MCIII is a stellar example of the House's commitment to innovation and is described as "a champagne experience that represents the third millennium." This futuristic bubbly's very modern name represents Moët & Chandon (MC) and the pioneering assemblage of several vintage wines matured in three different universes: metal, wood, and glass. This state-of-the-art champagne combines wine fermented and aged in stainless steel vats, Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage blends from 1998, 2000, and 2002 that have been partially aged in large oak casks and then preserved in stainless steel vats, and a third stratum comprised of 1993, 1998, and 1999 Grand Vintage champagnes that have been aged in the bottle. Bold and balanced, MCIII has flashes of youthful freshness and exuberance that invigorate its more mature and sultry flavor. MCIII reminds me of a classic film that has been remastered to sharpen the image without compromising the integrity of the original. A limited-production and quite exclusive wine with plenty of wow.
More widely available, but far from basic, is the House's flagship wine - Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial ($40). Created in 1869, it is the essence of their style and Benoît describes Brut Impérial as "a champagne for every moment, every occasion" and "harmonious, complex and versatile. Distinctive yet approachable." I agree. Year after year, I'm delighted by the consistency, craftsmanship, and extreme enjoyability of Brut Impérial. A robust, graceful, and joyful wine!
Ooh la la - the declaration of a Grand Vintage always generates great excitement and Moët & Chandon 2009 ($65) doesn't disappoint. The House's 73rd vintage is a powerful expression of a singular harvest as interpreted by Benoît. He says, "The Pinot Noir's controlled power is the very backbone of Grand Vintage 2009. This is noteworthy because the proportion of Pinot Noir has not been this high in a Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage since 1996. The result is a complex and charismatic wine that opens up to us, with obvious maturity, creating a warm atmosphere evoking an orchard of peaches and apricots in midsummer."
There's something unabashedly flirtatious about rosè champagne and Grand Vintage Rosé 2009 ($70) is all about seduction of the senses. A tapestry of fruit and spice flavors balance the richness of maturity with the levity of youth. Sophisticated, sexy, superb!
This year marked my second tasting with Moët & Chandon winemaker Benoît Gouez and it has quickly become one of my favorite wine experiences. His wines speak beautifully for themselves but erudite and down-to-earth Benoit is also an incredibly gifted communicator. Champagne is an undeniably special wine but chatting with Benoît reminded me that its ability to create a joyous connection between people is one of champagne's most powerful and alluring qualities.