Once in a lifetime: Benoît Gouez shares Moët & Chandon Rosé 1878 and 18 other wines

„We are going to open 19 different wines; there will be a Rosé from 1949 and a Bouzy Rouge from 1929. And then we have something special, something older. Are you coming?" asked Benoît Gouez, Moët & Chandon's cellar master since 2005, and there was no time for hesitation. On a snowy 13 of March 2013, a lot of flights from and to Charles de Gaulle had to be cancelled, this red letter day took place in Épernay. And the outside snow brought some special atmosphere and light into the elegant tasting room of this maison with a unique history: First Benoît Gouez presented some documents which reveal that 1801 Napoleon bought a "Rozet", date of disgorgement 1794. Unfortunately these bottles are empty for a long time. Napoelon, like the German poet Goethe, liked wine and drank it, unlike Goethe, before every battle as a pick-me-up.

Nevertheless the specialty of the tasting begins with the simple fact, that in comparison with the whites there are not many Rosé bottles left in the cellar of Moët & Chandon. Even Gouez was nervous about the fact, that some of the wines were unknown to him and some were the last bottles of this peculiar vintage in his cellar. Indeed, red and also whites from the Appellation Couteaux Champenois are quite rare and most of them have not the finesse or structure to compete with a Burgundy - that's one of the reasons why in Champagne the wines undergo a second fermentation. As well for an excellent rouge one needs very healthy and ripe grapes, but it's questionable whether a consumer is willing to pay a high price for such wines

For a better understanding of Moët & Chandon's approach on Rosé the event started with three still wines from the harvest 2012: a complicated year, with every weather tumult to imagine - winter frost, spring frost, very cold temperatures during flowering, hail, but no botrytis and in contrast to 2011 stable temperatures during August. 9500 kilogram per hectare yield, seven grams of acidity and 10,3 percent potential alcohol. "The winners of 2012 were the two Pinot varietys", said Gouez and presented three wines who were quite different in color and taste. The first was a Meunier, high color, cherry aromas, very special. Of course, Rosé is a question of colour, and Moët was always going for the deeper ones, and this Meunier was even vinified on the thermo side: Thermovinification was an innovation of the 1970ties - for killing the botrytis the grapes are heated up to 70° Celsius. Today one is still using this method; the heat let the cells explode and releases the color from the grape skins with a high efficiency into the must. The process of thermovinification increases dramatically the pigments and the anthocyanin extraction; the wines are smooth and soft, dominated by exotic red fruits and they lack tannins. The disadvantage of this method lies in the simple fact that these wines do not last, they exhibit no high structure and have to be used rather immediate for blend of the Moët Rosé Impérial.

Naturally someone throw the question on the table why, after all these years, Rosé became so popular. 30 years ago there were a lot of champagne houses who resisted the idea of blending a Rosé. The prejudice went so far to denounce it as a women wine. A real connoisseur never would touch a Rosé. So why is the Rosé market rapidly growing? Is it a female choice? Gouez doesn't think so. He interprets the late boom as a growing-up of the consumer who wants to become acquainted with something new. According to Gouez, the wine lovers who are drinking white Champagne now grasp also a Rosé. Interestingly enough the Rosé market is booming not at the expense of whites: the producers talking real business and additional bottles.

The second red was a Pinot noir from Neuville-sur-Seine in the Côte des Bar. This region stands for fleshy reds, therefore this wine illustrated the enormous potential of the south Champagne and fits the Moët conception of a reserve wine. The third was a Pinot noir from Ay. Aristocratic, intense, classic and elegant. A very good calling card for the latest harvest and a still wine we should find in 15 years in the blend of the vintage 2012.

Indeed the launch of the newest vintage was the superficial cause for this tasting, and consistently the Impérial Rosé 2004 shimmered with a lascivious hint in the next two glasses. One with dosage, the other without. A copper pink with hints of gold, blackcurrant and blackberry taste, spices, bread, dried figs - this vintage Rosé is round but intense and elegant, with a slight tannic structure and an overall very distinctive and subtle tanginess. Therefore this Rosé is a perfect companion for the first rendezvous or for refreshing an old love. Interestingly enough Benoît Gouez resisted the current trend of a lot of Champagne houses to add to their wines a dosage between ten and twelve grams sugar per liter. Usually one says this fits the so called international taste. The dosage of the 2004 Rosé five grams per liter, the cuvée includes 31 percent chardonnay, 24 percent Pinot meunier and 45 Pinot noir, of which 22 percent is red wine.

And then the adventure work really started. Fresh from the cellar the champagnes and the rouges; every champagne virtuously disgorged by hand, the hands belonged to Eric, the monarch of the cellar keys. Disgorgement à la volée - sometimes to cork resisted getting out of the bottle and Eric had to use his special Champagne assembly tools for screws and nuts. Certainly Eric was sweating, Benoît Gouez too. The condition of every single bottle was written in his face. At one time Eric had to open three bottles to get a decent result. Bouzy Rouges were from 1990, 1976, 1969, 1959 and 1947. Of course, each sip evoked a special comment. After the powerful 1990 my neighbor, a French guy with a likeable disposition for drinking and eating, longed for a virtual filet de bœuf. The Bouzy 1969 firm in color and structure, marked in the words of Benoît Gouez the end of era. For him 1970 marked the beginning of the modern era in Champagne, so we drank the last two bottles from the cellar with a sensuous dignity. Formidable the conditions of the 59 and 47, one could, after all these years, taste the sun: In 1959, one of the ripest yeast ever with over 12 degree potential alcohol, one had to water the wines to start the prix de mousse.

The Champagnes: 1998 magnum, 1980, 1976 magnum, 1955 and 1949. 1976 was on the oxidized site, this is what one has usually in his own cellar, but that's life how the old Greek philosopher used to say. Elegant was the 1998 with a for Moët rather unusual copper color, whereas the 1980 emerged as an acid bomb which I liked very much. Impressive the 1949, intense but young, everybody agreed that in the blind tasting this wine would considered maybe 15 years old. Interestingly the acidity was low, under five grams, the alcohol high, over 10 grams, and the yield with 5.500 kilograms per hectare rather low. This really indicates that acidity is not the most crucial criteria for the quality and longevity of a Champagne wine.

And then the star of the cellar: Rosé 1878 but first Benoît Gouez told the story of the vintage 1911 where they had 1100 bottles in the cellar but had to opened almost 800 bottles to sell 150. A lot of those bottles where empty or half filled. Nevertheless during his stocktaking he found three bottles of the 1878 vintage. They saw that the wines were not white. They deduce a Rosé and opened a half-filled bottle. "Hopefully this bottle is good", said Gouez and Eric started his craftsmanship. Indeed, in the glass it looked like a Rosé. The first gulp for the chef de cave. A beaming face. Dosage 100 grams, some malo lactic acid is left in the wine. The latter is not perceptible, even the sugar is discrete and kept the wine in a perfect condition. Aromas of cacao and coffee, with hints of blackberries. Sip by sip the historical wine vanished into the esophagus where he evoked a salaciousness feeling for history. The hard-boiled members of the panel had tears in their eyes. What did we do in September 1878? Whatever the answer might be, the Benoît Gouez' forerunners did get it wright.


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