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edited by Sue Courtney

A few bubbles - mostly from the House of Moët et Chandon
© Sue Courtney
16 February 2003

Pascal Tingaud, a 3-star Michelin chef, cooked me lunch the other day. He was brought out to New Zealand from France by the Louis Vuitton people and cooked a dinner for to celebrate the sponsor's 20-year with Louis Vuitton Cup Challenger series for the Americas Cup as well.

We drank Champagne, Moët et Chandon, of course. It is the sponsor's product after all.

There were three Champagnes, the dry Impérial Brut, the ever so slightly sweeter Impérial Rosé and the delectable Impérial Nectar.

The wines were poured as a trio, the idea to try them with different foods and understand what a versatile drink Champagne can be for any part of the meal. It also highlighted how a different style of Champagne can go so well with a particular food while another style of Champagne with the same food mightn't match at all well.

The first wine to pass my lips was the Moët et Chandon Brut Impérial NV Champagne (NZ$75) with its deliciously attractive bready aromas that hint of lemon and nuts. Pale in colour, this is very dry almost ethereal wine with an immense richness developing and the full fleshiness of peach and nectarine lingering. The finish is dry and salivating, it makes you want more. It is no wonder that people who can afford it drink this wine endlessly, it would never tire the palate.

Prawns cooked two ways with served with this wine. The first were slow cooked prawns that retained their white purity of colour, accompanied with a lemon wedge and dipping bowls of sea salt and soy sauce. The others were seared in a hot pan. They picked up the colour of the burning butter to give them a browny crispy coating. Accompanying these was a dipping dish of balsamic vinegar.

Moët et Chandon Brut Impérial Rosé (NZ$95) is delicately pink in colour, the colour coming from Pinot Noir grapes that have been made into red wine and blended back into the cuvée. Gentle aromas of strawberries, raspberries and roses give way to a rich ripe and creamy strawberry flavour almost overpowering in its concentration, there are also hints of blackcurrants, a spicy nuance and a fresh crisp finish. I liked this wine and it proves that not all Sparkling Rosés are sweet.

While this wine was good, it was absolutely no match to the absolutely brilliant Rosé, tried a few weeks earlier, which was -

Dom Pérignon Vintage 1992 Rosé (NZ$750) Made dominantly from old vine, low cropping Pinot Noir and released 8-12 years after vintage, this had a wonderfully appealing light salmon colour and very delicate aromas of cherry with subtle bready characters. It's very clean and very soft on the tongue with a lovely tingly flavour as the bubbles hit the cheeks. I like the fresh, bright, ripe fruit flavours in this wine, there's a spicy character, a creamy chocolately complexity, a lovely vibrancy and an earthy richness. The lightness in the texture brings out the silkiness. Strawberry flavours linger well. This is the wine I'd just love to sip on, a bottle in the ice bucket beside me on the deck of my beautiful seaside apartment on Auckland's North Shore. I'd have a wonderful vista of the Hauraki Gulf where the Americas Cup yachts are racing in the distance. I'd be under the shade of the patio umbrella and the sea breeze on this hot blue sky, blue sea day where the water shimmers like diamonds, would be nice and cooling. I'd have a bowl of fresh strawberries beside me, perhaps one or two of them dipped in chocolate, to nibble on as I sip the wine. Dreams are free.

I come back to reality and find a wine that I love and can almost afford.

It was the Moët et Chandon Nectar Impérial (NZ$89) was easily my favourite of the three Moët et Chandon Impérial wines. The colour of onion skin, this is sweeter to the taste. It smells of bread and summer hay and taste reminds of the deliciously ripe white Adriatic fig I plucked off the tree the other day - the first of the season. However the acid is there to keep this full rich wine in balance. This is a style that I reckon most people will also love. My neighbour at the table, however, though it too sweet. But give a glass of this to anyone who is not used to dry Champagne and I reckon they will really enjoy drinking this sweeter style over the very dry Impérial Brut, which they will politely sip and secretly wonder what all the fuss about Champagne is about. While the Nectar may not be a wine you can drink all day and night, how many glasses are there in a bottle of Champagne anyway?

The Nectar was absolutely divine accompanied with New Zealand Kikorangi Blue Cheese. The creaminess of the cheese comes through and the wine has the acidity to cut through the saltiness of the cheese and the sweetness to stand up to the strong flavour of the blue. It just all melds together in the mouth - so yummily more-ish. Evidently in Europe this would be paired with a Gorgonzola or a Danish Blue.

It was also a treat with a scallop cooked in butter and served with a blend of soy sauce and olive oil mixed together in a blender. Based upon his experience in France the chef had designed the scallop dish to go with the Rosé but he found New Zealand scallops sweeter and juicier than the more salty and drier European ones and the rich flavour of the NZ scallop totally overpowered the Rosé. The Impérial Nectar was my choice for this dish.

The best match with the Rosé was fresh summer fruit - strawberries, raspberries and cherries, served with cracked pepper. For a little more richness, splash the fruit with balsamic vinegar and accompany with the nectar. I preferred them without the vinegar, however.

There was also an oyster cooked with Japanese influences, e.g. wasabi, rice vinegar and ginger. The idea was to take a sip of the Brut, throw down the oyster and wash it down with the nectar. I have an allergy to oysters so tried it with a prawn, which perhaps didn't work so well.

A the Dom Perignon tasting a few weeks before, the occasion where I tried that brilliant DP Rosé, we also tried a couple of other DP wines.

There was the new Dom Pérignon OEneothèque 1988 (NZ$380), which had spent 13 years on lees. It was yellow gold in colour with a toasty rich aroma of lemon rind, fresh silage and bread. It tasted very fresh to me with rich toasty citrus characters, spices, flowers, honey, terrific acidity and lingering with a bready, buttery, honeyed richness. Altogether an interesting, intriguing wine.

The Dom Pérignon Vintage 1992 (NZ$260) had a biscuity nose with hints of leesy citrus and a suggestion of honey and butter - a very delicious and subtle aroma. I thought the wine a little musty on the palate however but no-one else mentioned it and the winemaker, Benoît Gouez, was there. Perhaps this is a character that is intrinsic to the wine? Certainly the weight, length and texture was very good. Upfront yeasty, lemony flavours give way to the earthy influence of pinot that gives a nutty and cherry-like under flow with delicate strawberry lingering well. There's some oiliness, some bready (croissants) richness and it shows it age more so than the other two Doms. It was my least favourite of the three exceptional Dom Perignon Champagnes.

I was so besotted with the DP Rosé it now takes pride of place at the top of my 'wine wish list'.

Talking about mustiness and corkiness - there were two badly corked wines served to our table at the Moët tasting. And the TCA just smell put the damper on things for a while as everyone dumped the affected wine into the bucket. It was quickly removed and emptied, thank goodness.

Evidently Sabate are working on a method to extract contaminants from the cork. "Cork is good for its mechanical qualities and plastic doesn't have this, but cork is bad for its taint", say the DP winemaker. It will be interesting to see what they come up with for there can be nothing worse than opening an expensive and special bottle of wine and find it is corked.

I loved the scallop dish so much, that I wanted to share it with Neil. We didn't have any Moët but we found a Besserat de Bellefon Champagne 1982. It was yellow gold in colour but did not look overly developed for a wine of 21 years, rich and toasty in flavour, lots of yeasty lees influence, full-bodied and definitely Champagne. The bubbles were starting to get a bit lazy but they were there the whole way through. The finish was persistent, long and toasty with an acidic brightness.

I have to say the wine was just divine with Pascal Tingaud's scallop inspiration. I didn't have the recipe so this is what I did. Take as many freshly dredged New Zealand scallops that you want or can afford - our beautiful plump scallops are always sold with the roe on - butter and soy sauce and olive oil using 2 parts of soy sauce to 1 part of oil. Whizz the soy sauce in a blender so it turns from dark brown to a creamy coffee colour, then add the olive oil and whizz for a little longer. Pour the soy/olive mixture into a dipping bowl. Melt the butter and when hot sizzle the scallops for a minute on the first side. Turn the scallops, remove pan from heat and cook them in the hot butter for about 30 seconds longer shaking them around in the pan as they cook. Pile them onto a plate, spear with a cocktail fork, dip into the sauce, place in mouth, chew and wash down with a mouthful of rich Champagne. Sensational! Play Johannes Brahms Violin Concerto in D Op.77 with the London Philharmonic condiucted by Klaus Tennstedt and Nigel Kennedy on Violin in the background and turn up on the garden speakers so you can hear them while you enjoy this starter to your feast in the garden with the last of the warm summer sun of the evening.

© Sue Courtney
16th February 2003.

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