Being one of the world’s most recognised luxury brands and the most famous producer in Champagne, we’ve come to expect a meticulous level of majesty from Moët & Chandon: perfunctory is simply not a word in their dictionary. It came as no surprise then, that our scheduled “working lunch” at Moët was in fact a delectable four-course meal at the stunning Trianon Residence, prepared by Dom Pérignon’s new in-house chef, Marco Fadiga.
We dined with Richard Geoffroy, Chef de Cave at Dom Pérignon since 1990. A Champagne veteran born in the heart of Vertus, he lives and breathes effervescence. As we ate, discussion turned to the purpose of our visit – research for the upcoming Prestige Cuvée vs Vintage tasting with Jancis Robinson MW – and Geoffroy shared his thoughts on the “overlooked” vintage category. “Vintage champagne deserves more recognition,” he told us. Whilst we in the trade spent our time obsessing over the different vintages and their many nuances, the consumer seems relatively uninterested: vintage accounts for just 10% of total Champagne production – a figure that hasn’t changed for decades. Yes, they come with a premium and will always remain a rarity, but as Geoffroy says: “Vintage champagne is very special and is made to be enjoyed.”
That said, Geoffroy is renowned for his unique approach to vintage champagne production. Whereas some producers might make their prestige cuvées just twice a decade following a consistent style, Geoffroy’s vision is broader. “Making one good vintage is easy, but making lots is a challenge,” he said quite seriously, and without a hint of arrogance. Annual production is a task he embraces, attempting to make a vintage every year, each one a reinvention, expressing the unique characteristic of that particular season. This is clearly something integral to the winemaking philosophy at Moët & Chandon and a point reiterated throughout the afternoon. Geoffroy later commented: “You can either wait for the rare, high-acidity ‘classic’ vintage, or try to make the best of ‘modern’ vintages.” Acknowledging that some of the greatest champagnes in history were made in warm, ripe, low-acidity years, Geoffory summarised his belief succinctly: “Winemakers are meant to make wine.”
And this winemaker does just that and he does it very well. To showcase this point, Geoffroy led us to a large tasting room where we met with Benoît Gouez, head winemaker of Moët & Chandon. The knowledgable duo had kindly prepared a comparitive tasting of eight different vintages of Moët (four from magnum) and Dom Pérignon (all from bottle). Introducing the Moët range, Gouez began with a familiar message: “Vintage is not about being consistent, it’s about expressing the year.” He explained that his vintage champagne has evolved from ‘Moët vintage’ to ‘vintage by Moët’. A subtle difference, but a key one – Moët Grand Vintage is no longer an amped-up Brut Impérial NV but rather has it own blending ingredients and methods.
As we tasted the range, both Geoffroy and Gouez elaborated on the winemaking procedure of their respective wines and the characteristics of the vintages they found interesting. Whilst they ensured us that “estate fruit is the core” of both Dom Pérignon and Grand Vintage, we were told that they are made in such high quantities that it would be impossible to depend exclusively on Moët’s own vineyards. Gouez arrived at Moët & Chandon in 2005 and since then has been reducing the dosage in the entire range quite considerably – resulting in a more sophisticated style of champagne.
Of the newly released Dom Pérignon 2009, Geoffroy said he had “sleepless nights” wondering whether he should have made it. Extremely ample and voluminous, many told him it was simply “too big”, but he believes his bravery was rewarded. Of 2006, he admitted he released too early but added this was his “most challenging vintage.” He described 2004 as a “no-brainer” and 2003 as the introduction of phenolics. Only discussed in the last 15 years, Geoffroy describes phenolics as “acidity, generating freshness” and says he now looks for a bitterness that is fixed.
Interestingly, the Dom Pérignon 2002 we tasted was not the original release, but was disgorged earlier this year and will become the next P2. A groundbreaking champagne initially, this has now had fourteen years on the lees and is incredibly exciting and tense. Commenting on Plénitude 2 releases, Geoffroy revealed that P2 2003 may come before P2 2002: “Another three years post-disgorgement will make a huge difference.”
To finish our tasting, Gouez returned after mysteriously disappearing to disgorge bottles of Moët and Dom Pérignon from 1996 and 1995. With now more than twenty years ageing on the lees, the Dom Pérignon’s will eventually become the P3 releases, although having just been disgorged, the bottles we tasted had zero dosage.
Summarily comparing the two different brands, Geoffroy happily accepts that many consumers prefer Moët & Chandon to Dom Pérignon. “That’s fine! Moët has a much more generous, giving style whereas Dom Pérignon is more complex and subdued. They are made as much different champagnes.”
Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2009 Magnum
50% PN, 36% CH, 14% PM | Ageing: 7 years on the lees | Dosage: 5 g/l | Jancis Score: 17-/20
Lots of lemon, creaminess and bright fruit. Good ripeness and great texture on the mouth. Has a real limey character.
Dom Pérignon 2009
60% PN, 40% CH | Ageing: 7 years on the lees | Dosage: 4 g/l | Jancis Score: 17.5+/20
Hint of salinity at first with lots of red apple flavour. Lots of summer fruits; melon, sherbet, lemon and lime. Enough acidity to keep it very refreshing. Needs time.
Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2006 Magnum
42% CH, 39% PN, 19% PM | Ageing: 7 years on the lees | Dosage: 5 g/l | Jancis Score: 16.5/20
Has an initial smokiness and loads of mid-weight fruit. Acidity lasts through to the finish.
Dom Pérignon 2006
60% PN, 40% CH | Ageing: 8 years on the lees | Dosage: 5 g/l | Jancis Score: 17.5+/20
Has bright lemon notes on the nose. Mid-weight seems generous, good texture. Perhaps not a long-term keeper, though seems very good now.
Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2004
38% CH, 33% PN, 29% PM | Ageing: 7 years on the lees | Dosage: 5 g/l | Jancis Score: 16.5+/20
Has lots of lush fruit initially. Packed full of fruit and clean acidity. Very straight forward but in a good way. Mid-fruit is lovely.
Dom Pérignon 2004
53% PN, 47% CH | Ageing: 8 years on the lees | Dosage: 5 g/l | Jancis Score: 17.5+/20
Lots of citrus and riper fruits on the nose which just develops more on the palate, good balance of acidity and long length.
Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2003 Magnum
50% PN, 36% CH, 14% PM | Ageing: 7 years on the lees | Dosage: 5 g/l | Jancis Score: 16.5/20
Has a lot of creaminess and honey. Acidity comes through nicely onto a great mid-palate. Savoury bitterness rather than acidity – must be the effect of phenolics.
Dom Pérignon 2003
53% PN, 47% CH | Ageing: 8 years on the lees | Dosage: 5 g/l | Jancis Score: 17/20
Low acidity, but packed full of fresh fruit. Seems to have a green rhubarb flavour and loads of smokey character on the finish.
Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2002 Magnum
43% PM, 29% PN, 28% CH | Ageing: 7 years on the lees | Dosage: 5 g/l | Jancis Score: 17/20
A fruit salad in a glass with so much lushness that is almost overwhelming. Very juicy palate, though the acidity seems to slightly drop off.
Dom Pérignon 2002
51% PN, 49% CH | Ageing: 14 years on the lees | Disgorged: Early 2017 | Dosage: 6 g/l | Jancis Score: 19/20
Has some lees character on the nose that starts to become really exciting on the palate. Highest glycerol content ever in juice. This is not original release, this is the P2 on its way to its release. So tension and freshness seem to be way up there.
Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2000
50% CH, 34% PN, 16% PM | Ageing: 6 years on the lees | Disgorged: 2007 | Dosage: 5 g/l | Jancis Score: 17-/20
Has incredible creaminess initially. So bright on the palate; fresh, zesty and wow.
Dom Pérignon 2000
52% PN, 48% CH | Ageing: 6 years on the lees | Disgorged: 2007 | Dosage: 7 g/l | Jancis Score: 17.5/20
Creaminess and savoury character dominate. This is really rather lush and fresh. Has some lime, good tension and a great mid-palate.
Dom Pérignon Plénitude 2 – P2 2000
52% PN, 48% CH | Ageing: 12 years on the lees | Disgorged: April 2013 | Dosage: 4 g/l | Jancis Score: 18/20
Very genourous and plump. The triopical-ness of this is amazing and the glide has been stretched – gives up loads for length.
Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 1996
50% PN, 45% CH, 5% PM | Ageing: 20 years on the lees | Disgorged: August 2017 | Dosage: 0 g/l | Jancis Score: 15/20
Slightly holding back right now. Has a lovely tight structure and some richness. A bit closed.
Dom Pérignon 1996
50% PN, 50% CH | Ageing: 20 years on the lees | Disgorged: August 2017 | Dosage: 0 g/l | Jancis Score: 17+/20
Tight on the nose. Loads of acidity and incredible mid-palate. Fresh tropical fruit abundant and packed full of freshness.
Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 1995
50% PN, 40% CH, 10% PM | Ageing: 21 years on the lees | Disgorged: August 2017 | Dosage: 0 g/l | Jancis Score: 15.5/20
Much more oxidative nose. Slightly smokey. Can be quite fresh on the palate.
Dom Pérignon 1995
52% PN, 48% CH | Ageing: 21 years on the lees | Disgorged: August 2017 | Dosage: 0 g/l | Jancis Score: ??/20
Bit dull. Strange lack of fruit and a dry finish. Maybe TCA?
Newly released Dom Pérignon 2009 is available to purchase now, in both 75cl bottle and 1.5L magnum format.