A grand bottle of bubbles

2011-03-25 09:41

Expensive champagne brands are trendy at local nightclubs where businessmen, socialites and politicians show off their spending power.

This beverage of the high rollers determines social status, and Moët et Chandon is one of the most recognised champagne brands in South Africa.

Recently, the brand’s master winemaker, Marc Brevot, was in South Africa to introduce their 2002 vintage, which will be launched in June.

But first things first. Brevot corrects our fancy enunciation by pointing out that the brand is pronounced m’wet! There you have it.

Most champagnes are non-vintage, which means they are blended from the wines of different harvests to recreate a consistent style.

According to Brevot, this is what makes their Grand Vintage Champagne rare and highly prized – it’s the first and last of a kind.

It’s sure to get the big spenders in a frenzy of one-upmanship.

“Moët et Chandon Grand Vintage champagnes are aged wines first created by the company in 1842 to meet the demands of British and American connoisseurs who wanted something different.

“These aged champagnes are an expression of each Chef de Cave’s (wine master’s) experience in creating a unique wine from the grapes of a single exceptional year,” says Brevot.

The Champagne-maker does not create grand vintages each year. Instead, he waits to see if there’s anything special about a harvest year that will differentiate it from the last vintage.

So far, there have only been 67 grand vintages released in the past 169 years.

“As a rule, champagnes are not aged like wine, that’s why the legal minimum of ageing is three years – sometimes much longer. The longer it takes to mature, the better it will impart its finer, more sophisticated flavour that is so sought after,” he says.

Brevot believes that each vintage released has its own unique personality.

As we tasted the Champagne, Brevot explained the subtle difference between the 2002 vintage (this year’s release), which he describes as elegant, and the 2003, a vintage that went on to the market in 2008, which is the more exotic and spicy of the two.

“While 2003 reflected the incredible warm summer with its fleshy and spicy characters, the 2002 climate was perfect. Ideal weather conditions were there, which is very unusual and almost improbable, but it did happen. It was a warm, windy harvest period with a balance across all the grape varieties,” he says.

It was this unity that helped create the balanced wine that typifies this harvest year.

“Not only does the climate have an influence on how the wine turns out, it also depends on how the team of winemakers interpret and listen to the wine. What striked the team was the uniformity of the quality between the different red grape varietals in the Champagne wine region and the white grape varieties, like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or the Pinot Meunier, which were all interesting. Usually, one would be more interesting than the other, but not that year,” he adds.

He explains that usually when they make a grand vintage, they have to extract a little bit of one element and add on some until they find the right balance, whereas with the 2002, the balance was there already.

Brevot and his team decided to build the wine around this harmony to create the blend, which is their first Grand Vintage since the 1930s to be aged for seven years.

It was left to mature longer than most vintages through the years, which are in the barrel for five years.

So the 2003 Grand Vintage ended up on the shelves long before the wine made the year before.

He adds that with regard to sales, it’s important to keep a steady flow of the wine on the market while allowing the other wine to reach its full potential.

“Like all Moët et Chandon champagnes, the 2002 is spontaneous, immediately communicates with and seduces the consumer, and, finally, it has a capacity to be flexible,” he adds.

Brevot says that while traditionally most bubblies cannot be paired with food, the 2002 can be – like with seafood, as it has enough character to complement the cuisine.

That’s good news for those with wads of cash who enjoy their food with a few exclusive French bubbles.

À votre santé! 

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