The credit crunch might have hit the profits of LVMH’s wine division but any parsimony imposed by Bernard Arnault on his employees has not yet reached his London office.
On 16 June, Moët & Chandon’s unspeakably handsome chef de cave Benoît Gouez presented a tasting of base (still) wines that would eventually go into Moët’s Brut Imperial NV and Grand Vintage 2008 blends at a modest little venue called the Royal Albert Hall, where a Moët Champagne bar has just been installed. Preparations for that evening’s performance of The King and I were underway while we tasted on the Gallery overlooking the auditorium.
This was the first time a tasting of base wines had been held away from Epernay, said Benoît. “They are fragile wines that don’t travel well,” he admitted, as charming and articulate as ever.
Champagne is not a particular interest of mine – like everybody else, I like it when it’s good – and I have visited the region only once in seven years, so this was my first experience of base wines. It was an interesting exercise for neophytes.
The samples presented were what Benoît called “pre-blends” – that is, blends from different villages and vineyards of each varietal from a “short selection” of some 700 wines.
Benoît had to go to Birmingham that afternoon. I warned him that my home city was very dangerous. He looked alarmed and asked why. “Brummies,” I told him. He did not whistle a happy tune.
The tasting notes are rather pithy as we had to rush through the wines at a fair pace to allow staff to clear up the mess before the evening performance.
Moët Imperial still base wines
More acidic than the Chardonnay for the Grand Vintage.
Oxidised – acetaldehyde?
Fruity and simple, less acidic than the Pinot Noir.
Red (for rosé wines)
Based on Pinot Meunier. Rustic and fruity.
Assemblage of Moët Imperial
More oxidative than the Grand Vintage assemblage, rougher round the edges, more acidity.
Moët Grand Vintage 2008 still base wines
Less acidic than first Chardonnay. Some oak influence. cleaner varietal character on the palate.
Nice aromas, very acidic.
Fruity, simple, less acidic than the Pinot Noir.
Fuller and richer than any individual wine.
Assemblage of Moët Grand Vintage 2008
Plenty of acidity but rounded and balanced, and should age well.
Persistent, though not particularly fine, mousse. Toasty nose, a bit reductive. Medium-bodied, with a crisp finish. Correct but dull – though much better than it used to be!
Imperial Rosé NV
Salmon pink. Mousse as per Imperial NV. Not much on the nose – reductive again. Similar style and structure to the Brut Imperial on the palate, with a tiny bit of tannin. Correct but dull, too…
Grand Vintage 2003
A notorious and atypical Champagne vintage released by Moët before the 2002, which is still on yeasts and will be released in 2010. The 43 percent Pinot Meunier content is the highest ever used in a white wine chez Moët, and the 5g/ltr dosage is the lowest ever. Served in an etched glass, which invariably flatters a wine – a much finer mousse than the Brut Imperial. So generous up front and in the middle, with a big punch of fruit, but less so at the back. Generous and moreish, very New World in style. Still a bit blurred round the edges – drink now to 2015?
While presenting this wine, Benoît explained that 2003 had the lowest ever acidity levels seen in Champagne, though malolactic was still completed for the Moët 2003! “It is not high acidity that makes good Champagne,” he insisted, pointing out that great vintages such as 1976, 1959 and 1947 had low acidity.
Grand Vintage Rosé 2003
Also served in an etched glass, mousse as before. Gourmand, as per the 2003 white. Even finer and richer than the previous wine, with good length. Drink now to 2011?
Grand Vintage Collection 1995
Iodine on the nose, lean and intense. Similar flavours on the palate, with some toasty/autolytic character too, but more generously structured than the nose. Clean acidity on the finish. Very good Champagne. Drink now to 2020+?
Grand Vintage Collection 1990
Gentle mousse, not as persistent as the younger wines. Disgorged in August 2003, so it has had an extra four years under cork compared to the 1995 (disgorged in November 2007) and is consequently more oxidative in character. Less acidity than the 1995, so it feels less “bright”, though the dosage for both is 12g/ltr – relatively high by modern standards. Drink now to 2015+?