Preachin’ the bubbly
VAIL – Benoit Gouez has a simple answer to the question of when people should drink champagne.”All the time,” he says with a grin. “Anytime is good for a good time. I don’t like the idea of just reserving champagne for special occasions.”Gouez may have a slight bias: He’s the “chef de cave” – or head winemaker – for Mot & Chandon in Champagne, France. In town last week for the Taste of Vail, Gouez was busy promoting the idea that champagne shouldn’t just be for weddings and New Year’s Eve.”I want to see people enjoy it more often,” Gouez says. “It’s not just waiting for a special occasion but to have champagne to make an occasion special.”Gouez points to other trends such as the rise of spas and other creature comforts that help an increasingly busy world touch base with a little luxury. A glass of champagne with dinner, he says, can make an ordinary meal more special.”In modern days, these kinds of luxuries seem less frivolous,” he says. “To balance the modern lifestyle and all that pressure, people need to balance that with some of the great things in life.”
And Gouez works for a company that knows a few things about life’s finer things. Since 1743, Mot & Chandon has been making champagne in the north of France a region, Gouez says, where the grapes are grown just at the edge of their tolerance. That leads to variations in quality and quantity of the grapes, which means they are almost always blended to create the wines from which champagne is made. Getting the right blend is a big part of his job at the winery, he says.While stopping short of dissing California’s sparkling white wines – only wines from the Champagne region can legitimately be called “champagne” – Gouez says the climate and terrain in Champagne creates the best grapes and a more balanced sparkling wine.”Compared to most sparkling wines which can be fruity but not mature or yeasty without much fruit we look to balance the whole thing,” he says. “That leads to a wine with great complexity and generosity.”And there’s a lot to be said for a body of knowledge that stretches back more than two centuries. That translates to consistency something Gouez says is the hallmark of Mot & Chandon.”It’s important to have the guaranty that when you find a bottle you like, you get the same taste when you buy it again,” he says.For Americans, that tends to be Mot & Chandon’s White Star label, Gouez says. In the mid-range on price at about $33 a bottle, White Star is one of only a handful of wines made by Mot & Chandon. As Gouez says, the name and history of the brand adds to the appeal.
“The legend and the tradition are important,” he says. “But there’s a freshness, an elegance to it that’s satisfying but not overwhelming. It’s clean.”Gouez says he likes to drink champagne as an aperitif before meals, like most people. But has no problem drinking it throughout a dinner, with dessert or even with lunch. In Vail, he served champagne with lime for a mountaintop barbecue, underscoring the message that it’s a more versatile beverage than it’s been given credit for.”The taste of good champagne just makes people smile,” he says. “It makes people happy.”
Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14625, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado