Experience the pleasure of Champagne country in the heart of London
I have a confession to make. I am a complete and unabashed Francophile, and this week is going to be a real treat. Later in the week I’ll be sampling Noilly Prat, but today I was at the OXO Tower on London’s Southbank to visit a fantastic class hosted by Moët & Chandon, entitled the ‘Moët Academy’, which features expert tutelage in tasting Champagne by TV presenters and masters of wine Peter Richards MW and Susie Barrie MW.
As Fiona has already shared, the Moët Academy is designed to take you through the history and the process of creating the worlds premier sparkling white wine from the wonderful Champagne region. Over the next two weeks (between Monday 13th April and Friday 24th April) you can experience a little piece of the French countryside in the heart of London and deepen your appreciation for this magnificent drink by visiting cellars, seeing vines grow and learning the process from grape to bottle.
Upon arrival I was greeted by the team and deposited my coat and bag then took a seat on the comfortable sofa, ready to watch a short introductory video on Moët. Around me the space has been decorated in a minimalist but elegant way. At this stage you can register to win prizes via the iPad’s located on one side of the room. Introductions over and pleasantries exchanged it was time to to go to school, Champagne school that is.
School is in session
We began by getting a brief overview of the Moët house, it’s history and how it grew from its establishment in 1743 to become the dominant Champagne house which blends the perfect marriage of tradition and innovation.
Terrior is a word with no direct English translation. It deals with the location and climate the grapes grow in. I was surprised to learn the region is located quite far north in France with a harsher, almost English, climate where there are low average temperatures and more than a bit of rain. 75% of the soil is chalk and it sits on a big chalk bed below. Overall this helps to drive water to the vines negating the need for direct irrigation.
The journey then begins by seeing the vine varieties which go into making Moët. All three varieties – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier – were represented by living vines brought over from Moët’s extensive 500 hectares of vineyards in the Champagne region. Each grape variety brings a distinctive flavour. Pinot Noir gives body and structure, aroma and complexity to the wine with flavours of red fruits. Meunier the suppleness, roundness and fleshiness, think apples and pears. Finally there is Chardonnay which brings fresh delicate citrus flavours. I think this gives Champagne its elegance and finesse.
Here we saw how the vines are planted and cultivated, closely together to preserve heat, and how they are still tended to by hand. In the modern age of automation it is nice to know each grape is still hand picked – all 5000 hectares are done in just 10 days! The entire region is harvested in around 3 weeks by an army of families who have worked with the chateau for generations.
Next we moved on to the winemaking process itself. After harvesting, the grapes are gently pressed and each variety is fermented individually to make the base wines. At this point you’ll taste a sample of one of the base wines.
Next the team of 10 winemakers blend the wines to create that years Champagne. A non-vintage Champagne will have as many as 100 wines in the blend from several years. This ensures a consistent quality of Champagne. Vintages are made from a single year’s harvest.
The tour guide will take you through the rest of the winemaking process, from bottling to second fermentation, maturation and adding the sugars all in a recreation of a wine cellar. The whole process, from vine to table takes a minimum of two years to produce a bottle of Moët non vintage. Vintage wines take a minimum of seven years!
Finally it is through to the tasting experience. Keep everything you have learned about Champagne up to this point in your mind as you sample four distinct Champagnes.
First up was Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial NV. This was first created in 1869 to celebrate Napoleon’s 100th birthday. I quite liked this blend. It tastes of fresh green apples and citrus fruits.The background and aroma reminded me of the smells you get from a French bakery first thing in the morning, that smell of croissant baking.
Next was a non-vintage Rose. It was a very light pink colour and came with an intense taste of red fruits. It had an edgy, fruity quality and I think it would go well with Italian dishes, sauces made with tomatoes and olives. It felt it needed that as it is a little strong to drink on it’s own – for my palette.
Next we had a nice treat with a glass of Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2006. A vintage wine is the winemakers interpretation of that years harvest, it embodies the character of that year. This was my favourite Champagne of the session. I loved how distinctive it was, how it lept out of the glass with flavours of peach and marzipan.
Finally something a little different, Moët & Chandon Ice Imperial non vintage. This was designed by Moët to be served over ice, and as you can see we had it in a very distinctive chalice. It is made with a slightly harsher flavour and designed to be watered down by the melting ice.
The Moët Academy runs from 13th – 24th April in the OXO Tower. Tickets cost £40 each for a 90 minute session and are available from their website – www.moethennessy-selection.co.uk/en-GB/moet-academy-1/