There's only one way to enjoy bubbly and that's when it's shared – that's according to Moët & Chandon oenology project manager Marc Brévot.
The sentiment rings true. While one might be tempted to keep something as delicious as a good bottle of vintage French Champagne for one's own selfish benefit, it's a social and celebratory drink that comes into its own when you drink it among good company.
Pairing food with wine is the best way to learn about the latter - yet another philosophy held by Marc and the venerable Champagne house he represents. It's through the enjoyment of a meal that we come to know the fundamental aspects of the wine, he says.
Moët & Chandon turns 250 years old this year. It's one of the oldest bubbly estates in Champagne. Interestingly, it was about Moët bubbly that Napolean Bonaparte remarked, "In victory, you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it." Napolean clearly had his priorities in order.
He was a great friend of Jean-Remy Moët (pronounced mow-ette), and it is tribute to their friendship that Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial was created. We enjoyed both this non-vintage version, as well as the 2002 vintage - Moët's most recent cellar release.
Together with Luke Dale-Roberts and the Test Kitchen in Woodstock, Moët launched its 2002 vintage to a small group of journalists and hoteliers in March.
Marc and Luke shoot the breeze during the lunch at the Test Kitchen
Luke's carefully constructed menu incorporated the four ways our senses come into contact with the Champagne: through sight, smell, texture and taste, which I thought was an excellent way to be guided through the different elements that make up such a fine wine.
The 2002 vintage offers a golden glint that flashes sunlight - the result of longer aging time in the cellar. In fact, this is the first vintage to be aged for as long as seven years since the 1930s. (Interestingly, Champagne produced by vintage and aged in this manner accounts for just 10 percent of all the Champagne created.)
In a short YouTube clip, Moët & Chandon cellarmaster Benoît Gouez says he was "especially seduced" by the Chardonnay for 2002 because of its quality of integration, richness and freshness which is why the finished product contains 51 percent Chardonnay to 26 percent Pinot Noir and 23 percent Pinot Meunier.
The wine shows its age with grace - heady floral notes, yeasty biscuit and essence of toasted almonds waft up as a fine bead of bubbles elegantly makes its way to the surface.
Just then, bowls of freshly bake almond brioche appear on the table. Luke has outdone himself. His brioche is almost as good as the French make it, remarks one diner. We tuck in, indulging in the steaming freshness of the bread.
It is soon joined by the rest of the dish - an almond and smoked garlic dip, grapes in verjus, and foie gras.
Hot-out-the-oven almond brioche
The initial yeastiness of the 2002 dissolves into ripe fruitiness of pear and plum once brought to the lips - echoed by Luke's dish of pan seared scallop, parsnip and tonka bean puree, pink grapefruit beurre blanc and mandarin sauce vierge.
Brévot's initial explanation about the harmony of the vintage is well demonstrated by how well it is paired with food. It might take going through 800 base wines to decide whether or not to make a vintage, but at the end of the day, Moët isn't overly concerned with getting too complicated. Its main concern is about keeping things simple to achieve the goal of a top wine.
Brévot uses a painting as an analogy, pointing out that a good painting is admired for the overall effect, not just the many single brush strokes.
Moët has certainly achieved harmony and balance with its 2002 vintage and while it might be on the pricey side, it's a wine that really does set the bar for sparkling wine producers the world over.