By Celia Strong
Over all the years, all the bottles, all the glasses, we’ve each developed our own ideas of what we think are good wines. And, we hold those wines up as the standards for all the new ones that we try. With luck, we’ve been able to grow our lists of good wines. Together, even. But, every once in a while, some new wine comes along that is just a bit more different than others that we’ve tried. Sometimes we like it. Sometimes we’re not too sure. Sometimes, a new wine is way down a new road, all by itself, and we can’t really understand it or why someone would make it or even get close to thinking it might be good. It’s just too far down that road. But, sometimes, we just have to buckle down and tip toe along that new road. Meaning we taste the wine. And we could end up at a great new place. With a great new wine. So, I warn you now, that strange, new road is our trip today.
To get to our new strange road, we are going to Champagne. We all know certain things about Champagne. It’s a region in northern France, northern enough to be cool for a wine region. Cool enough that even though their grapes have a hard time ripening, the Champenois have learned to make sparkling wines. As a whole, the most expensive sparkling wines in the world. And they are delicious! When we are sipping one, we all tend to love them. Today, we are going to visit one particular house – as wineries are referred to in Champagne. Moët & Chandon.
The company started, in 1743, as Moët et Cie. Claude Moët was a wine trader and shipped his wine from Champagne to Paris. (Moët is a Dutch name, pronounced “mo ette.”) When Louis XV was King of France, the interest in sparkling wines grew a lot, especially among royalty. In 1840, the company introduced the idea of a vintage Champagne and marketed their first one in 1842. Innovation. Brut Imperial, their biggest selling Champagne was introduced in the 1860’s. Dom Pérignon, their prestige wine, is their best known label. There was actually a Dom Pérignon, a Benedictine monk, who was a pioneer in the making of Champagnes. Unfortunately, the story so many of us learned about how he “invented” Champagne, meaning making their wines with bubbles in them, is not true. Darn! Dom Pérignon was the first prestige level Champagne, (Innovation!) and 1921 was the first vintage of it. Not released for sale, though, until 1936.
Backing up, just a bit, the Chandon name was added to the company after Claude’s grandson, Jean-Rémy, retired. In 1832, Jean-Rémy’s son, Victor Moët, and his son-in-law, Pierre-Gabriel Chandon, took over the company. It was Chandon who came up with idea for vintage Champagnes. And, he started the production the Moët Imperial Brut, in 1860. Seems we should be glad he came into things?
Today, Moët & Chandon owns more than twenty five hundred acres of vines in the Champagne region. (Just for comparison, G H Mumm owns about five hundred acres and Pol Roger owns about three hundred.) A distinctly larger amount than almost any of the other houses. They are one of the largest producers of Champagne, making about twenty-six million bottles each year. Just as a perspective, they make about five million bottles of Dom Pérignon in the years they do make it.
So, now we know our producer of this week’s wine. They have from a long history of innovating in the world of Champagne. The first to even think of doing a vintage Champagne; the first to do a prestige level Champagne. I’m sort of hoping that knowing this about them might make accepting their next innovation a bit easier. But, I guess, there’s no no easy way to glide easily into it. So, here it is. They have made Champagne that is meant to be served with ice. Yikes! Really? Ice in Champagne. That’s almost sacrilegious. How could they? How could I? But, we are on a new road, and we have to take this trip to the end.
Moët Ice. A new wine with a new winemaker with a whole new feeling and way of drinking it. The blend for this wine? (Remember, Champagne can use three varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.) It starts with forty to fifty percent Pinot Noir. Way more of this grape than their usual cuvée. Then, thirty to forty percent Pinot Meunier. Finally, ten to twenty percent Chardonnay. The Pinot Noir gives the final Champagne a sense of wine, intense fruitiness and structure. The Pinot Meunier makes it rich and full and fleshy, with a melting sensation in the mid-palate. Chardonnay, the one white variety, makes the finish of this Champagne really refreshing.
The large percentage of red grapes accounts for the slightly darker color in this Champagne. Deep gold with amber highlights. (In fact, Moët tastings of this wine use acrylic white glasses. You can really see how golden colored it is that way.) There are tropical fruit aromas, like mango and quava, with nectarine and even raspberry. The flavors follow, along with a voluptuous texture in your mouth, there’s a type of sweetness like caramel and quince jelly. And, my favorites, a hint of grapefruit and ginger. Yum! All in all, a fuller bodied version of an Extra Dry Champagne.
Oops! A curve in our new road. Moët Ice has to be served in a red wine glass. What? Yes, when you open a chilled bottle of this, you pour it into a large bowl wine glass. It’s ok to take a small taste, but the next step is to put three medium size ice cubes into the glass. Yeh, there it is. Sacrilege. But, not to worry. This Champagne is made with more bubbles. Just so the ice can’t flatten them. Next step. You add your flavors into your glass. A mint leaf, a lime twist, a couple of raspberries, a slice of kiwi, a twist of grapefruit rind, a piece cucumber peel, a couple of slices of strawberry, a basil leaf. One or some combination that appeals to you. All fresh, all chilled. And, if you like, get a straw. And sip! And let go of all your old Champagne rigidness. Moët Ice is new. Innovative. And delicious.
And, when should you try this new, amazing cocktail made from Champagne? I have a perfect answer. For Mothers’ Day. You can gather your family, get your ice and your red wine glasses and your fruits and flavors. And have fun with it. Together. And if you buy it between now and 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, which is Mothers’ Day, you can do it for $50.00. (Usually, it’s $59.99.) I’m going to share some with my mother. Hope you do, too! The end of this new road is spectacular. New. Innovative. Fun. Delicious. Enjoy!