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Lifting the Lid: Anne Krebiehl blogs from Moët's latest tasting

Published:  13 July, 2012

"It's time to go back to basics," said Benoît Gouez, chef de cave at Moët & Chandon, as he introduced Lifting the Lid - a tasting of the 2011 base wines behind Moët Impérial NV.

"It's time to go back to basics," said Benoît Gouez, chef de cave at Moët & Chandon, as he introduced Lifting the Lid - a tasting of the 2011 base wines behind Moët Impérial NV.

The reason for allowing members of the trade and press a glimpse of the components that will go into this best-selling cuvee in the sleek surroundings of the Antique Wine Company's tasting rooms was to "understand the values behind Moët Impérial". Rather than talk about the vintage wines, Gouez wanted to talk about the essential Champenois art of blending and showcase the variety of the base wines whose immense diversity, so Gouez, gives Moët "not only quantity but also quality and consistency". Not a small concern for the biggest and best-selling Champagne brand that isMoët Impérial NV - in his authoritative book, The Finest Wines of Champagne Michael Edwards reckons a bottle of it is popped every six seconds somewhere. And no matter where that is, the world expects consistency.


While Gouez was very coy and would not put a figure on the annual production of Brut Impérial, it is estimated that the output is around 30 million bottles per annum: this takes a whole lot of base wine, most of it recruited from Moët's own 1150 hectares of vineyards across the region and boosted by numerous grower-contracts. While the trade can be sniffy about Brut Impérial, it clearly is a feat of blending, logistics and supply management to produce a consistent cuvee in the face of vintage variation in both quality and quantity. This achievement of 30 million bottles makes more sense when compared to, say, the roughly 12 million bottles of Mouton Cadet or 20 million of Mateus Rosé annually. Knowing this, Gouez pointed out that "It is not that Moet is a big machine that we cannot go into detail," on the contrary, "we have a spirit of fine craftsmanship and this means to pay attention to detail."


To illustrate this, Gouez presented three vin clair samples each of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, as well as two pre-blend reserve wines from 2009 and 2010 and one of the three to four annual final blends for Brut Impérial. The fruitiest, most textured expressions came from the three Pinot Noirs, one from Ambonnay, one from Verzenay and one from Aÿ, all showing structure and length. The difficulty of the 2011 vintage which Gouez pronounced "not powerful but vibrant" meant the wines had all been chaptalized. The Pinot Meuniers were more earthy - one very lactic-smelling example had been included in this tasting just to demonstrate which wines do not make it into the blend, and how stringent selection is.


Gouez was also at pains to point out the importance of Pinot Meunier to Champagne, in his view Champagne's trickiest grape to grow: "It brings a certain fleshiness to the mid-palate and it helps to create a bridge between Pinot Noir and Chardonnay." Gouez dismissed the idea that Pinot Meunier's faster maturation which made Champagne approachable earlier was the only reason it was added to so many NV blends, for him it has a specific role to play and its very own potential, exemplified by the fact that it is Champagne's second-most planted variety after Pinot Noir. "It harmonises the blend," so Gouez.



The three Chardonnays showed great focus and a lithe, almost linear citrus-scented purity. The two reserve blends from the good 2009 and 2010 vintages showed well: even without the bubbles, flavours and maturity of two years of autolysis these wines showed balance and harmony. In contrast, the actual final blend for the Brut Impérial seemed rather hollow in the middle - a hole that one hopes will be filled by autolysis.


Gouez emphasised that Moët looked for "bright fruitiness" in its reserve wines and hence, most were no older than two years. In order to ensure consistency throughout a year of constant disgorging and bottling, every three to four months a final blend is made, initially containing up to a third of reserve wines and less and less as the current base wines become more mature over the year.


Moët Impérial NV's assemblage, so Gouez claima, roughly represents the encépagement of the region, with no fixed recipe: in this particular case 38% Pinot Noir, 28% Pinot Meunier and 24% Chardonnay with an addition of 10% taille des noirs (the slightly more phenolic fraction of pressing after lighter-pressed cuvée). Brut Impérial spends 24 months on its lees in bottle, is kept for three more months before release and has a dosage of 9g/l which, says Gouez "gives precision in the finish." Whatever you may think of Moët Brut Impérial NV, it has the essential Champenois qualities of vibrant acidity, integrated autolysis and a light-footed elegance.