Cellar master Benoît Gouez answers all your questions about champagne and the Moët Impérial, from tasting notes to storage
Don't pop the cork
Parties have always been made better by champagne. Even when you're burnt out year-end whirlwind and not much in the mood for celebrating, you'll be hard-pressed to frown after a glass or two of golden sparklers. What with a slew of fizz-filled shindigs coming up, we felt a need to get some champagne advice. Ahead, Moët & Chandon's cellar master, Benoît Gouez, teaches us how to better drink (and appreciate) the king of wines. No flutes allowed, FYI.
What are your tips for drinking champagne?
Benoît Gouez (BG): Wine tasting is very personal and sometimes a champagne is better for one but not for someone else. But in terms of what to look for, the first thing is the colour: a champagne needs to have a bright gold colour. The older is the wine gets, the deeper its gold colour will turn. If you serve a brut non-vintage champagne and you see a copper colour, it could be a sign of a bad storage, and the taste could be oxidized.
The size of the bubbles is also an interesting detail. When you see a fine effervescence you can easily feel the complexity and the taste of a particularly delectable champagne. Finally, your champagne must not present a cork nose.
What are the nuances a drinker should look out for the next time they drink a Moët Impérial?
BG: Moët Impérial is the perfect expression of Moët & Chandon style distinguished by a bright fruitiness, a seductive palate and an elegant maturity. The "bright fruitiness" brings out the natural flavour of the grapes, with a richness that evokes the tastes associated with a basketful of ripe fruit. The "seductive palate", both sensual and mysterious, brings forth a palate that is light yet generous, ample yet fresh, derived from a delicate balance of flavours and qualities carefully collected in Moët Impérial's bespoke assemblage. The "elegant maturity" refers to the complexity of maturation on the yeast that leaves behind notes of biscuits, fresh bread, fresh walnut to bring out the luxurious finesse and the complexity of Moët Impérial.
How different is it from the other bottles in the Moët & Chandon repertoire?
BG: Our mission with Moët Impérial is to talk to the senses and not the brain. We don't make intellectual wines for tasting, but rather emotional wines for drinking. We are here to make people happy.
What is the proper way to store champagne?
BG: A fresh and dark place not too humid nor too dry, with a constant temperature around eight to ten degrees Celsius. An electrical air-conditioned cellar can be the perfect place. After the champagne bottle is opened (and you wish to keep it for one more day), you have to use a special cork to protect the bottle pressure and the bubbles, and finish your bottle the day after. This said, the best choice is to always finish your bottle on the same day. If you're planning to enjoy your bottle of champagne within three to four days of the purchase, it is fine to keep it in the fridge. Otherwise, if it sits in the fridge for weeks, the cork can dry out due to no humidity, and the champagne will oxidize faster, changing its aromas.
What glass should I use?
BG: The best way to enjoy champagne is in a white wine glass. A white wine glass's larger bowl enables the wine to open up in the glass, allowing you to better enjoy all the aromas and to savour the complexity of the champagne. Traditional champagne flutes are perfect for showcasing champagne's stream of bubbles, but their narrow shape limits the drinker's experience of aromas and flavors. Also, remember to hold your glass by the stem and not by the bowl because your hands will warm the champagne up too quickly.
What is the best way to serve champagne?
BG: For the service, some hours or days in a refrigerator will be ideal. As for the service temperature, champagne is a wine that is best enjoyed at a certain temperature, so you have to chill your bottle fifteen minutes before drinking. Don't freeze it, just chill it to about seven or eight degrees in a bucket with a third of water and two thirds of ice cubes.
Is there a proper way to open a champagne bottle?
BG: It may be fun to pop the cork, but it's best to keep the wire cage on when opening your bottle. The cage helps you control the cork so it doesn't fly out when it pops, and it also gives you leverage to help separate the cork from the bottle. When removing the cork, hold the top of the cage with your thumb to keep the cork in place, and untwist the wire six times. Then hold the cage and cork together in one hand while using the other to twist the bottle's base in a circular direction away from the cork to slowly work the cork out. Twisting the bottle instead of the cork allows you to more gently remove the cork and have more control.
What are the best foods to pair with champagne?
BG: Since "saltiness" is the single sensation missing from brut champagne's flavour profile, it is a perfect counterbalance to savoury dishes. That is why it's usually paired with amuse-bouches, appetisers, and light main courses, and less suited to sweetened desserts. If you're looking to pair a Moët Impérial, light dishes like sushi, scallops, oysters, or a fragrant Caesar salad are ideal.
Is there something not many people know about the Moët Impérial?
BG: Each year at Moët & Chandon, we face the awesome challenge of recreating Moët Impérial, with the same recognisable taste that is beloved around the world, despite having to use grapes that, at each harvest, are never exactly the same in aroma or ripeness.
Therefore, Moët Impérial doesn't have an exact blend of grapes, even though it is approximately made of two-thirds of Pinot Noir and Meunier, and a lesser one-third of Chardonnay. Its 'assemblage' is constantly changing to ensure that it always tastes the same, whatever year it is produced in. Moët Impérial remains consistent because we are constantly controlling, adjusting and adapting. While an industrial producer will apply the same recipe year after year, we make champagne that is made-to-measure.