A New Direction for Moët & Chandon

May 21, 2007

Tinkering with tradition is like trying to turn an ocean liner around. It takes a long time. However, Moët & Chandon’s new chef de cave has different ideas.

The Champagne house was founded in 1743. The firm’s White Star is the top-selling Champagne brand in the United States. This kind of tradition and success is impressive. So why tinker with it?

Enter Benoît Gouez. The 36-year-old joined the company in 1998, and from 2001 until 2005, assisted Richard Geoffroy on the Dom Pérignon team. In 2005, he became chef de cave for the Moët brands. With the blessing of management, Gouez has been rationalizing the range of cuvées and tweaking a few things here and there.

Brut Impérial NV is no longer sold in the United States. It was confused with White Star, and since the latter was preferred in blind and brand tastings, White Star became the horse of choice in that race.

Gouez also changed the White Star cuvée, adding more reserve wine to balance the dosage, which is sweeter than brut (it’s technically extra dry, although that doesn’t appear on the label). His goal is a bright, fruit-driven, elegant style.

Now, Gouez and Moët have taken a bolder step. With the release of two new vintage wines, which have a new name and label, Gouez made a stylistic shift. Rather than conform to a house style for consistency, as in the NV cuvées, or interpret the character of the vintage, he was given free rein to choose the most interesting base wines to create the new vintage cuvées, the Brut Grand Vintage 2000 and Brut Rosé Grand Vintage 2000.

“Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, the vintage [cuvée] was influenced by the Moët & Chandon style, a super Brut Impérial, if you will,” explained Gouez. “I think we were looking for consistency, but maybe we missed some options available to us.”

He also decided to extend the maturation on the lees from five to six years, looking for more mature flavors on the wine on release.

We tasted the wines non-blind a few weeks ago when Gouez visited New York. The Brut Grand Vintage 2000--a blend of 50 percent Chardonnay, 34 percent Pinot Noir and 16 percent Pinot Meunier--shows assertive aromas of toast, graphite and honey. It begins crisp and focused on the palate, expanding on the finish with mango and pineapple notes. Overall, it’s a complex, creamy Champagne.

The Brut Rosé Grand Vintage 2000--41 percent Pinot Noir, 39 percent Chardonnay and 20 percent Pinot Meunier--has 22 percent still red wine added. Rich and ripe, it offers peach and apple flavors, a rich texture and fine length. It has a long, cherry-tinged aftertaste and a touch of tannin leaving a tactile sensation.

“My vision is that the vintage [cuvée] makes an impression, whether you like it or not,” he stated. I was impressed and look forward to tasting the wines blind with others from the 2000 vintage. Look for my reviews based in upcoming issues. Rather than turn the ship around, Gouez is exploring new waters.

France Champagne

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