Moet & Chandon magnum being poured
Picture: courtesy of Moët & Chandon

WALKING THROUGH Melbourne’s iconic dining destination, Kisumé, feels a bit like a guided tour through a speakeasy; it’s dark, a little mysterious and somewhat ominous. I’m escorted downstairs to a private room at the far most side of the restaurant. It’s a stark setting, coming from light to dark, but that’s the intention.

You see, luxury champagne house Moët & Chandon — which this year celebrates its 280-year anniversary — has arranged the occasion to showcase the unveiling of a trilogy of luminous Grand Vintages from extraordinary years: Grand Vintage 2015; Grand Vintage Collection 2006; and Grand Vintage Collection 1999. Titled ‘Tale of Light’, each are the product of a single harvest and a commemoration of a remarkable year.

As I reach a table set with a trilogy of champagne glasses (custom-made for Moët & Chandon, no less), I’m greeted by a thick French accent behind a warm smile. “Thank you for joining me,” says Benoît Gouez, Moët & Chandon’s Chef de Cave.

If you won’t speak fluent wine (for this, you’re forgiven), Gouez is the Cellar Master at Moët & Chandon, whose duty it is to oversee every aspect of champagne production, from grapes through to fermentation and aging. A position reserved for only the most experienced of winemakers, Gouez is Moët & Chandon’s honorary gatekeeper, and today, he is taking Esquire through a one-on-one tasting of the latest Grand Vintage releases.

Benoit Gouez Moet & Chandon

“Each Grand Vintage is my interpretation of a specific year, and as such, is unique,” explains Gouez, as he hands me a glass of the Grand Vintage 2015. “The story behind a ‘Tale of Light’ starts in 2015. It was a year that was influenced by global warming — very dry and very warm.”

Swirling his own glass of Grand Vintage 2015 — exactly as you’d expect a French Cellar Master to do — he proceeds to place his nose deep into his glass before taking a quick sip.

“A new profile of champagne was established as a result, and to have a better understanding of the ageing potential of such wine, I selected two other past vintages that offered a similar profile in terms of climate and balance of the grapes.”

Gouez describes the three Grand Vintages as “brothers” from the same family, each offering similarities but differences at the same time.

“It’s about educating the market — to give people a better understanding of what vintage Champagne is all about. There is still a lot of people who don’t know that champagne can age so well and be so mature and complex but still so fresh at 15 or 21 years old.”

Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage 2016

Grand Vintage 2015

Gouez nicknamed Grand Vintage 2015 “Luminous Morning” thanks to the ardent sun that contributed to the unique profile of this mature, complex and charismatic blend. At the first sip, you’ll immediately recognise its exceptional tenderness — the result of grapes that experienced a mild winter, a warm spring and a dry summer marked by record heat.

The youngest of this exceptional trilogy, Grand Vintage 2015 will hold up for years to come, only developing further in taste and profile — a champagne “full of promise.”

“In the case of 2015, the challenge was to be true to the year. Again, it was dry and warm, so you can expect something with a higher intensity, with body, with good fruitiness. But at the same time, it’s about balance,” explains Gouez.

“For me, 2015 really illustrates a fruitier Champagne. And when people wonder whether it will be good or bad, whether it will have the same ageability with a lower acidity, they only need to look at 1999 to be reassured that it will develop nicely.”

Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage 2006

Grand Vintage 2006

The “Dazzling Zenith” that is Grand Vintage Collection 2006 boasts a profile that Gouez describes as “smoky, full- bodied, and stretched.”

“Whereas 2015 is still young and fresh and full of promise, 2006 is full bloom; the perfect explosion of flavours,” says Gouez.

“It has 15 years of age, and that extra time has reinforced the reductive character of the wine. It’s very smoky and toasty, with a very refined bead.”

Marked by a cold winter, frosty spring, and a summer characterised by intermittent heat waves followed by hot, dry conditions, the result is a wine that feels like the “light at noon, when the sun is at its peak.” In other words, it’s a wine that represents the peak of the day.

Paired perfectly with Kisumé’s pan-seared scallop with sake beurre blanc and freshly grated shaved truffle from Western Australia, Gouez exclaims this coming together as his “favourite pairing” during his time in Australia.

Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage 1999

Grand Vintage 1999

The last product of the millennium, Grand Vintage Collection 1999 can only be described as a warm, powerful, and generous champagne that represents the “Vibrant Twilight” — the ending of the day.

Made from grapes that sustained an abnormally cold and wet winter, a warm spring, and a tropical end of summer marked by high heat and torrential rains, if anything, 1999’s sunlight was memorable.

“1999 is much more dark in flavour, it’s brown in colour; you get notes of chocolate, coffee, toffee. The palate is really integrated and creamy — that’s what you get with 24 years of age,” says Gouez.

“How many white wines can be that fresh and clean after that amount of time?”

With less than 1000 collections available worldwide, the Tale of Light Trilogy will be available in Australia from late 2023, and can be purchased exclusively via Moët & Chandon.