Cellar Master (Chef De Cave) Benoît Gouez had flown in from his Champagne residence to host the intimate dinner in the private dining room at Shell House, sharing his exceptional passion and knowledge for the new release.
Gouez unveiled three exceptional Grand Vintages, presenting them as a trilogy to tell the story of their shared experience of spectacular luminescence in different summers, the ‘Tale of Light’. The vintages were chosen by Gouez to narrate the story of the passage of time. Grand Vintage 2015, Grand Vintage Collection 2006 and Grand Vintage Collection 1999 reflect the impact of three different maturation periods – seven, 15, and 21 years respectively – but are Champagnes with a common luminous experience. Says Gouez, “Each Grand Vintage is my interpretation of a specific year, and as such, is unique. This trilogy is composed of a Grand Vintage and two Grand Vintage Collection Champagnes, all different, but products of relatively similar climatic conditions, forming a one-of-a-kind trio to tell their shared Tale of Light.”
The evening began on the balcony with guests dining on hors d’oeuvres whilst drinking Moët & Chandon Impérial Jeroboam. While the Jeroboam not only looks impressive, it tastes better too, explained Gouez, as the bigger the bottle, the longer the fermentation and the more complexity in the Champagne. There’s also less oxidation so the Champagne ages better.
The menu for the evening was a collaboration between Shell House and Moët & Chandon. The first course was a delightfully delicate dish of spanner crab, caviar, white turnip and yuzu, which perfectly showcased the Grand Vintage 15. Harvest 2015 traversed a clement winter, a warm spring, and the dazzlingly bright light of a dry summer marked by a record heat. “2015 was really the year when I realised the effect of global warming on our grapes and style of our wines,” Gouez says. With almost seven years on lees, this wine is impressive, showing remarkable maturity with a voluptuous nose and full-bodied finish. A blend of 44% Pinot Noir, 32% Chardonnay and 24% Pinot Meunier, Gouez says Grand Vintage 2015 is a Champagne that marks the start of a new day.
Second course of coral trout, mussel, fennel and lobster bisque was a perfect match for my absolute favourite, the dazzling zenith in The Tale of Light trilogy – the Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Collection 2006. As the leader in the Champagne region and owner of the largest estates across Premier and Grand Cru, Moët & Chandon honours its responsibility to give back to nature and work with its communities to regenerate the soils and nurture local flora and fauna. The all-important handling of fruit is at the centre of fine Champagne, and it is the role of the Chef de Cave to manage and blend the wines for style, ageing and release.
Benoît Gouez joined the Moët & Chandon team in 1998, becoming Chef de Cave in 2005 so the Grand Vintage Collection 2006 holds a special place in his heart, being his first Vintage release as Chef de Cave. Vintage releases of Champagne are a statement not only of the year and finest of harvests, but they are also a statement of rarity, opportunity and history. The year 2006 was marked by a cold winter, frosty spring, and heatwaves in summer followed by hot, dry conditions before harvest. The benefit of 15 years on lees and disgorgement in 2022 is an exacting decision by Gouez. A blend of 42% Chardonnay, 39% Pinot Noir and 19% Meunier presents an aged wine that Gouez describes as golden-hued with a nut, smoke and fully integrated palate, flavours of fig, mango and yellow fruits.
Not part of The Tale of Light Trilogy, but a welcome addition to the evening, the third course of spatchcock, spiced carrot, chickpea and pomegranate was served with the sumptuous Grand Vintage Rose 2015. The harvest of 2015 was abundant in exceptional red-skinned grapes showing remarkable maturity, with a powerful, fruity nose and full-bodied finish. In this Champagne, pinot noir shines brightest, with 52% in the blend (including 14% of red wine). This is enhanced by 27% of chardonnay and 21% of meunier.
The final and perhaps most delectable dish of the evening featuring Tête de Moine, pecan and pineapple was served with the incredible Grand Vintage Collection 1999. Described as the Vibrant Twilight of the Tale of Light trilogy, the wine has spent 21 years on lees and is a blend of 38% Pinot Noir, 31% Chardonnay and 31% Meunier. Gouez reflects on the vintage as one that sustained an erratically cold and wet winter, a warm spring, and a tropical end of summer marked by high heat and torrential rains. His decision to disgorge this wine after 21 years is perfect timing, Gouez describing this Champagne as a warm, powerful, and generous wine, with aromas and flavours of nougat and hazelnut, toast, dates and coffee.