Winemaker Elise Losfelt of Moët & Chandon, the world's leading Champagne house since 1743, visited Houston this past week and sat down with the Houston Press to discuss their champagnes, and to introduce the Grand Vintage 2006, which is now available in the United States. She also has a few tips for beginning champagne drinkers.
Losfelt is one of ten winemakers at Moët & Chandon and is part of the team that controls the quality of every champagne produced from their vineyards. If you have ever had a bottle of Moët & Chandon champagne, it was most likely the Moët Imperial, their flagship champagne.
The Moët Imperial is a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, but because the weather varies in the Champagne region during the harvest months (April to September) affecting the consistency, quality and taste of the grapes, Losfelt explains that Moët & Chandon embraces "the art of blending." Their champagne is created from the three previously mentioned grapes sourced from different areas in the Champagne region gathered over a span of three years.
"Whenever and wherever you buy your bottle of Moët Imperial, you will have exactly the same experience. This is the main idea. If you go tomorrow to buy a bottle of Moët Imperial you will have exactly the same experience. And this is what we guarantee as winemakers: That you have the quality and the same style wherever, whenever; in one year, in two years, tomorrow, in another place, exactly the same experience," Losfelt says. "From different villages within the Champagne region, from different grapes. And also using different years. In another way, there's no recipe for Moët Imperial. Everything is based on our tasting abilities as winemakers to make sure that when we take the decision of a new blend from Moët Imperial it will be in the line of the consistency of all the other bottles of Moët Imperial that have been produced."
She describes this champagne as having a firework effect in your mouth; the second you take a sip, the bubbles explode on your tongue, but slowly fizzle away. It's bright, crisp and fresh, making it an excellent starting point for champagne novices. There is no exact formula for creating the Moët Imperial's blend, but it consists of a large third of Pinot Noir, a normal third of Pinot Meunier and a small third of Chardonnay.
At Moët & Chandon, Losfelt also works with the chefs to come up with food and champagne pairings.
"As it is a Brut Champagne, it means it is an unsweet champagne; as an unsweet champagne, it pairs with salty dishes," Losfelt says. "Some of the really fun food pairings you can do with your Moët Imperial... you can have it with French fries; truffle French fries are really amazing with this champagne. Anything that is oily and salty at the same time is great with champagne. Like fried chicken is crazy with champagne."
Slightly aged goat cheese, a hard Parmesan, or firm Gouda also pair well with the Moët Imperial. For a meal, try a citrus-marinated ceviche or fish.
Moët & Chandon recently released the Grand Vintage 2006, a champagne that completely reflects that harvest year, but only if it was an outstanding and exceptional year in the eyes of the winemakers.
"I like to describe this champagne as a champagne that is floral, succulent and expansive. Why floral? Because its blend is dominated by 42 percent Chardonnay...Here for this Vintage, it's the Chardonnay that dominates. The Chardonnay brings today to this champagne a lot of aromas of floral that you might have had on the nose; it's also quite nutty today," Losfelt says. "So Chardonnay is floral, it can also bring some buttery aromas but this will come when the champagne ages. Succulent and expansive, this is for me linked with the texture of the Champagne on the mouth...The 2006 has a lot of density, it's thirst-quenching, it develops on the bottom part of your palate... it has a huge length and it stays really long, developing slowly all the levels of aromas of the champagne in your mouth. So actually you have more intensity and more complexity in the aromas of the 2006."
Like the Moët Imperial, the Grand Vintage 2006 is also a Brut Champagne, but its sugar content is much lower. The Moët Imperial has 9 grams of sugar per liter, while the 2006 has 5 grams. Then you have Coca-Cola which has nearly 100 grams of sugar per liter.
She suggests pairing a glass of Grand Vintage 2006 with your main course. Match those intense aromas with veal and potatoes, or a risotto mixed with hearty mushrooms, lemon or pumpkin. An addition of creaminess to your dish brings out the fruitiness and freshness of the Chardonnay blended in this champagne.
For a surprising barbecue pairing, Losfelt suggests swapping beer for the Rosé Imperial. It's simple and intense, and pairs nicely with red meat or game meat, along with peppers and peppercorns. She also suggests it as a refreshing wine to drink during the hot summer months.
"Sometimes in the summer I know that Rosé Imperial is what people are craving for because it has a little bitterness at the end that brings a lot of freshness, actually, and when it is really hot outside, people are craving for freshness and the Rosé Imperial is something that can bring that," she says.
When serving a non-Vintage champagne, ensure it is chilled to approximately 8 to 10 degrees Celsius (about 50 degrees Fahrenheit), and 10 to 12 degrees Celsius for Vintage bottles (about 54 degrees Fahrenheit). Placing your bottle in the refrigerator the night before will allow it to reach this chilled temperature. If you're serving a large bottle of champagne, or one you don't expect to finish that night, then serve it in an ice bucket.
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Losfelt suggests serving champagne in white wine glasses instead of flutes, too.
"If you want to enjoy completely the aromas of the champagne, I invite people to try [it] with white wine glasses," Losfelt says. "The flutes are nice because they have a celebratory shape; you see the bubbles, etc. But when it comes to tasting really good champagne, it's really not the best glass. So, if you want to taste the champagne, use a white wine glass. Don't pour too much because as it's wider, the champagne gets warmer quicker and it loses its bubbles quicker. But, if you want to do a dinner with champagne, or you really want to impress your friends, you can do it with the white wine glasses."
When storing your champagne, don't leave an unopened bottle in the refrigerator for more than four day because the air in the fridge dries out the cork, altering the aromas of the wine. Place it in the refrigerator the night or two nights before you plan to serve your bottle. Open bottles must be stored in the refrigerator with the appropriate stopper that has a silicon seal to maintain the pressure.
If you don't finish it within two days, just cook with it! Then open another bottle of bubbly because you're cooking with champagne.