Tradition and wine often go hand in hand. Messing with more than 250 years of tradition can be tricky, especially when you have the No. 1—selling Champagne brand in the United States.
Don't tell Benoit Gouez. As chef de cave for Moët & Chandon, the young winemaker's fresh ideas are propelling the venerable Champagne house (founded in 1743) into the twenty-first century.
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.
With the release of two new vintage wines, Gouez and Moët have taken a bolder step. In blending the Brut Grand Vintage 2000 and Brut Rosé Grand Vintage 2000, Gouez made a stylistic shift. Rather than conform to a house style for consistency, as in the nonvintage 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 bottlings.
"Throughout the 1980s and '90s, the vintage [cuvée] was influenced by the Moët & Chandon style, a super Brut Impérial, if you will," explains 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 in the wine on release. And the vintage cuvée has a new name and label.
The results of my blind tastings were impressive. The Brut Grand Vintage 2000 (92 points, $60), a blend of 50 percent Chardonnay, 34 percent Pinot Noir and 16 percent Pinot Meunier, shows assertive aromas of gingerbread, graphite and vanilla. Overall, it's a complex, elegant Champagne.
The Brut Rosé Grand Vintage 2000 (90 points, $75), 41 percent Pinot Noir, 39 percent Chardonnay and 20 percent Pinot Meunier, has 22 percent still red wine added. Rich and ripe, it offers dried berry and citrus flavors, a rich texture and fine length. It has a long cherry-tinged aftertaste and a chalklike sensation.
"My vision is that the vintage [cuvée] makes an impression, whether you like it or not," says Gouez. They certainly make an impression. And I think you will like the new direction Moët is taking.