Rediscovering its sparkle
Author: Edwin Dublin
When one thinks of Champagne, ‘luxury’ and ‘glamour’ tend to spring to mind more readily than ‘value’. Yet one of the trade secrets surrounding Champagne is that vintage is able to provide a huge step up in complexity from its non-vintage sibling, but without the sometimes eye-watering prices of the prestige cuvées, thus making them excellent value. Vintage is the middle child in the shadow of her glamorous older sibling – the prestige cuvée. Moët et Chandon is a case in point: their Brut Impérial NV is famous around the world (indeed, it accounts for approximately 10 percent of all Champagnes bought); the glamorous sibling here is Dom Pérignon, for many the ultimate cuvée of them all. So what of the forgotten middle child?
Vintage is a slightly awkward category because although the prestige cuvées are vintage-dated, their drinkers are often not interested in this particular facet, caring more for the style, name or associations of their preferred cuvée label. This is a logical follow-on from non-vintage which, being a blend of vintages, is all about house style. But it is with vintage that winemakers often feel they can come into their own in showcasing the house style as reflected by a particular year.
Under the direction of chef de cave Benoît Gouez, Moët has over the last 10 to 15 years raised the game of their vintage offering, Grand Vintage. Current offerings here are the 2006 Grand Vintage and the 2004 Grand Vintage Rosé. The 2006 vintage was characterised by a hot spring and early summer followed by a cool and wet August which caused some furrowed brows; but September, as so often is the case, saved the day to produce a healthy crop which provides satisfying early drinking. The 2006 Moët has Chardonnay taking the lead (42 percent) and Pinot Noir (39 percent) just edging Meunier (19 percent). The rich toasty nose with subtle bitter orange is evidence of the generous seven years’ lees ageing and signposts this as a step up from the non-vintage. The palate is similarly generous in both weight and flavour profile with peach, melon, that orange once again and a nuttiness that lingers.
The 2004 had the Champenois holding their breath after the extraordinarily topsy-turvy and torrid 2003, but it was a return to near normality with a large but healthy, good-quality harvest. Initially underrated after the great 2002, it has been re-evaluated upwards and is one of my favourite recent vintages. The Pinot Noir-dominant 2004 Grand Vintage Rosé (45 percent Pinot Noir, of which 22 percent is red wine) has an attractive deep-copper colour; lifted warm brioche on the nose follows through with a richly-textured palate of black-berried fruit that is almost wine-like, a touch of black chocolate with a liquorice twist on the finish.
So the next time you want to upgrade from non-vintage to something a little more refined, give a thought to the vintage offering. Who knows, you may even be able to buy two or more bottles for the price of a single prestige cuvée…
Explore Moët et Chandon’s Vintage Champagnes with 20 percent off until 17th November.