By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer
Moet Grand Vintage- the 2004 has arrived!
This past Sunday I was lucky enough to be invited to Tamarine Restaurant in Palo Alto for the debut of the 2004 Moet Grand Vintage. The group was hosted by Moet winemaker Elise Losfelt who is part of the ten person team that oversees Champagne's largest producer. Elise comes from a long line of female winemakers, from the other side of France near Montpellier. She also has experience in Bordeaux, having worked at Chateau Beychevelle in St. Julien and was extremely qualified to speak on the subject of Champagne- not just as an insider, but also with great perspective.
Moet is a giant landholder in Champagne and owns more land than anyone else in the region by a long shot. They currently own just under 3000 acres of vineyard - easily over a billion dollars worth of land under vine. In addition, they have many long-term contracts with growers to supply the house more fruit for their very large production. If you take a look at the Larmat Maps that are available on this blog for free download, you can see the spots in red that they owned back in 1943. These have changed some in the past 70 years and their holdings have expanded, but the amount of vineyard marked red as belonging to Moet is simply amazing.
We started off with an aperitif of Moet & Chandon "Imperial" Brut Champagne ($37.99) which I learned got its name from Napoleon, who was close friends with the Moet family. This wine replaced the White Star in the US market in the fall of 2009, due to the fact that American Champagne lovers were demanding a drier style. The White Star was an Extra Dry, and curiously the first Imperial to arrive on these shores was as well - but not labeled with any style statement. If you see a bottle of the Imperial that does not say 'Brut' on it, snap it up… One day it will be a collector's item!
These first bottles were dosed at 13 grams per liter for the US market only. At the same time they were selling bottles to the Asian market at 11 grams per liter and the rest of the world at 9. Starting in the summer of 2012, all the Imperial began to be labeled 'Brut' with the dosage the same worldwide at 9 grams per liter. It is composed of what Elise describes as a “big third” of Pinot Noir a third of Meunier and a “small third” of Chardonnay. I thought this was a great way to describe the moving target- since they blend four batches of the Imperial a year, keeping the winemaking team and bottling lines busy. She also mentioned that since they use the produce of over 200 villages in the bottle, the blend of Imperial closely matches the percentages of plantings in Champagne as a whole. Elise explained that the first blend in January following the harvest uses the most reserve wines- around 30%, while the last blend of the year will use around 20% because of the better maturity of the base wine. Since they want a fresh style of wine at Moet, they only use one to two year old reserve wines. All Imperial produced is aged for 30 months on the lees before release.
This was certainly the best Imperial I have drunk, with a discreet nose of bread dough and apple-like Meunier fruit. It was easy to drink, dry and clean and a nice way to start an evening.
We sat down to dinner and the 2004 Moet & Chandon "Grand Vintage" Brut Champagne ($64.99) was served with lime coconut scallops. This wine, although significantly older than the Imperial that preceded it, smelled and tasted much younger. It is composed of 38% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir and 29% Meunier and dosed at just 5 grams per liter- making it eligible to be called an 'Extra Brut'. It has a very fresh, chalky aroma and the classic drive of this very good 2004 vintage.
Judging by the excellent structure and acidity of this wine and the history of older vintage of Moet, this wine will make a great candidate for the cellar! The cut of the wine was perfect with the rich scallop, and those of you who would like to open some now will be thrilled with how well this 2004 goes with shellfish.
Next we were served a fantastic plate of spiced honey seared duck to accompany the 1993 Moet & Chandon "Grand Vintage" Brut Champagne. This wine showed wonderful maturity at 20 years old and a great aroma of toast and oyster shells. This bottle was disgorged in October of 2011 as part of a special batch set aside for the future and aged on corks rather than the crown caps that they used for the initial vintage release in 1998. This was the first vintage that Moet started this program with, and Elise said that they have been thrilled with the results. The wine is dosed at 7 grams per liter of sugar and has plenty of toast and butter on the palate, flavors that the duck amplified. I loved the refreshing finish of this wine and loved the pairing with the duck.
The main course of the night was Lemon Grass Sea Bass served with both the 1983 and 1973 Moet & Chandon "Grand Vintage" Brut Champagnes. The 1983 was never released commercially and only bottled in magnums for the wine making team (and luckily for a dinner or two). It is composed of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay and a small part of the wine was barrel fermented. This 1983 was very bright for a 30 year old with a white gold color. On the nose, the crushed oyster elements of the 1993 were here in even great quantity and the wine was a real belemnita fossil experience. In the mouth the wine is very rich and buttery and yet has the lift to clean up on the long, driven finish. What a treat!
I was very excited to taste the 1973 Moet & Chandon "Grand Vintage" since it is a great vintage in Champagne, and also my birth year. The records of the blend were destroyed in a fire at Moet, so Elise said the best we could do was guess. I was pleased that it was just the records that burned up and not the wine! She did note that at this time a portion of the wine would have been barrel fermented. This was a great bottle, and I loved the truffle infused, baked apple aroma that offered so much depth and complexity. On the palate this wine is so rich and intense and the sea bass brought out great sweet, clean fruit from this forty year old. This incredible Champagne had a very long finish that had hints of prosciutto to go along with its mineral drive. I hope I’ll get a chance to taste this again!
K&L’s great friend Wilf Jaeger, who is a partner in the RN74 restaurants, was kind enough to bring a bottle of the 1966 Moet & Chandon "Dom Pérignon" Brut Champagne to share with us at the dinner, and it was a huge treat for everyone in attendance. This bottle had no signs of slowing down at 47 years of age, and the hazelnut aroma that I always associate with grand cru of Verzenay jumped from the glass. On the palate the wine was seamless, nougaty, and had plenty of citric refreshment. This bottle had it all- savor, fruit and velvet like ease. No wonder Dom Perignon has earned such a big reputation!
This great evening reinforced how much ageing potential the wines of Champagne have- and Moet in particular. I have tasted Moet as old as 1914, and have never tasted a properly stored bottle that was over the hill. These wines are worth keeping!
A toast to you!