SFoodie may be adept at turning cheap sparkling wine into delicious cocktails, but that doesn't mean we don't know how to appreciate an extraordinary opportunity. Recently we met with Benoît Gouez, chef de cave at Moët & Chandon (France), to taste both its new 2002 Grand Vintage and its new-to-the-U.S. nonvintage (NV) brand, Imperial Champagne.
In the U.S., Imperial is replacing the White Star label. There's less sugar in the Imperial's dosage
, yielding a slightly drier style. (Dosage
is a sweetened wine added to each bottle after the aging process, when the yeast lees are removed.) The reason for the shift
: "The evolution of the American market in terms of taste preference," Gouez explained. "We don't see that much of a difference anymore between American taste and European taste."
We were impressed by the brightness and drinkability of the Imperial. It managed elegance and lushness even at a retail price of less than $40 (we saw it at Costco recently for $28). It means we'll be able to celebrate or dress up a brunch with Champagne more often.
Since 90 percent of production in France's Champagne region produces nonvintage sparkling wines, wineries typically reserve the vintage releases for exceptional harvests. Gouez's aim with Moët & Chandon's vintage releases is to develop personality in every single vintage through longer aging and reducing the dosage. The Grand Vintage 2002 ($69) is a great expression of that philosophy. It has creaminess, crisp acidity, and mineral qualities, perfect for complementing a meal or sipping on its own.
For a chance to try the 2002 Grand Vintage by the glass, both the Clift
(495 Geary at Taylor) and the Intercontinental
(888 Howard at Fifth St.) are pouring. It's also available at K&L Wines
(638 Fourth St. at Brannan).