Champagne has for a long time been the libation of celebration, with everything from marriage proposals to New Year’s Eve being toasted with the noble wine. In recent years, it has even been given its own day of global recognition - Champagne Day - the third Saturday of October.
Moët & Chandon is one of the most recognised and loved brands and, in conversation with the house’s Oenologist Wine Quality Manager Amine Ghanem, it becomes clear South Africa is on the esteemed house’s radar.
Ghanem believes, as an emerging market, it is important that SA is looked after and Moët aims to be active on both the party and gastronomy scenes. South Africa is the first and only country to have Moët Nectar – the house’s demi-sec – surpass Moët Imperial in sales and popularity.
As the biggest vine grower in Champagne, France, Moët has access to 10% to 12% of all of the region’s grapes, owning 1,500 hectares, with partners providing grapes from an additional 4,000 hectares. It is a massive operation and Ghanem is one of 10 winemakers who oversee production. Specialising in red winemaking, he is responsible for the pinot noir used in the blending of rosé. He believes the scale of their holdings, and the control Moët has in the region, allows for diversity, enabling the house to blend wines that are elegant and seductive and also consistent.
“We try to make different champagnes for different moments. Don’t wait for a good moment to open a bottle - open a bottle of Moët and make the moment great,” he quips.
The Moët & Chandon range is fairly extensive, so which champagne is best suited to what?
Starters and aperitifs call for Brut, which also makes a good choice for celebrations and partying. The Rosé Imperial is a more intimate glass; it is feminine and romantic and best suited to situations that reflect that. Nectar is perfect for nightclubs and partying. The Grand Vintage – outstanding select years aged accordingly and released as vintages – is best for gourmet experiences, as it has the structure and power to stand up to heavier main courses, explains Ghanem.
The general rule of thumb is that Brut is best paired with salty dishes, while Nectar goes best with sweet dishes and spicy foods.
Starters: Choose Moët Imperial – it is great with sushi, salads, salmon and beef carpaccio. This classic champagne also pairs well with oysters.
Main Course: Grand Vintage is your best bet. Ghanem suggests the latest vintage release, the 2012, as it is set to be one of the best yet. He also proposes the MC3, a new concept for champagne. The wine is a blend of three winegrowing and winemaking techniques from six vintages from 1993 to 2003. Both wines have the ability to stand up to complex dishes, such as veal, duck and quail.
Top tip: Be sure to drink it from white-wine glasses. Flutes are okay for non-vintages but the shape of a wine glass allows the champagne to breathe and better showcases its depth.
Dessert: Nectar is the obvious choice for dessert as it pairs well with sweet dishes.
TIPS FOR THE PERFECT CHILL
Grand Vintage should be drunk at 12°C, non-vintage between 8°C and 10°C.
Fill an ice bucket with half water, half ice and use it to chill vintages for 15 to 20 minutes and non-vintages for 30 minutes.