Many people believe Dom Pérignon – a French Benedictine monk that lived in the 17th century – invented Champagne. We have already discussed this famous character, so it will not be necessary to comment on him again. Nevertheless, the fame stuck on him and Moët & Chandon used his name as the first prestige Champagne, initially released for sale in 1936.
This wine became synonymous with status and top quality. According to Wikipedia, “In 1971, the Shah of Iran ordered several bottles of the first vintage of Dom Pérignon Rosé (the 1959) for the 2,500-year celebration of the Persian Empire. A bottle of that champagne, from that order, was sold at auction for €24,758 in 2008.” And it was also “chosen for the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles. The magnums of Dom Pérignon Vintage 1961 served on that July 29 carried a special insignia created just for the ceremony.”
It must be stressed that Dom Pérignon is always millesimé, that is, produced from a single year and not in bad crops. But, is it worth it? Should you pay $150-200 for a bottle instead of the regular Moët & Chandon, at $39 each? Gentleman’s Gazette will discuss that.
Moët & Chandon
The Maison started as Moët & Cie. in 1743. Ninety years later, Pierre-Gabriel Chandon joined the company, becoming a partner of Jean-Rémy Moët. They merged with Hennessy, one of the four great cognac companies, in 1971; finally, in 1987, with Louis Vuitton, creating LVMH, the largest luxury group in the world.
It is interesting to know that the LVMH group also owns Dom Pérignon, Krug, Mercier, Ruinart and Veuve Clicquot. Each year, Moët & Chandon produces 26 million bottles and Veuve Clicquot produces 10 million; together, they represent more than 12 percent of the Champagne production. If you consider 5 million as the production of Dom Pérignon, you have five bottles of Moët & Chandon for each bottle of the prestige cuvée.
The Difference Between a Regular and a Premium Champagne
This, we believe, is the main point one should ponder before spending almost four times more for a bottle. The production of Dom Pérignon is five times smaller than that of the NV (“non-vintage”) Champagne of the Maison.
Remember, a Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial (a label created in 1869) is a non-vintage Champagne, meaning that it is produced with more than 100 different wines from 200 crus (villages), traditionally with 30-40% Pinot Noir (for the body), 30-40% Pinot Meunier (for suppleness), 20-30% Chardonnay (for finesse) and 20-30% reserve wines.
The Maison tries to maintain the house style every year: that is the spirit of the NV Champagne. The aficionado will return to the label to find the same set of characteristics that he/she grew fond of. In the case of the Brut Impérial, you will find honey, green apples, citric notes, white flowers, brioche, and a touch of gooseberry. It is considered a light, delicate wine.
As to the relative value of the Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial, if the ratings may help us, Wine Enthusiast gave it 89 points, saying that it remains “Unchallenged as the world’s best-selling Champagne… It has become slightly drier over the years, currently emphasizing the fruit quality with apple and lime flavors. The acidity and crisp texture make it immediately attractive. Light and fruity at the end, it is a good apéritif wine.” Cellar Tracker, a popular wine discussion and tasting website, gives it 87.7 points, based on 750 user reviews.
All in all, I would say that it is a good rating – not remarkable, but good enough to make me seriously consider the Brut Impérial next time I’m out shopping for French bubblies.
Dom Pérignon and its intrinsic value
Take a look at this great ad from Dom Pérignon with Christoph Waltz and you will begin to understand its allure.
First, we must remember that Dom Pérignon is a millesimé Champagne – its blend and thus its tasting characteristics depend on the vintage conditions: rain, cold, hours of sun, the maturity of grapes, etc. There will be good vintages and there will be outstanding vintages, and the price of the bottles will vary accordingly.
That said, most critics agree that the best recent Dom Pérignon vintage was 2002 and so we will focus on it. Even though it is a relatively rare Champagne, you may still find it for sale on wine-searcher.com for an average of $200. James Suckling gave it 97 points; Decanter and Wine Spectator, 96.
Moët & Chandon owns virtually all the vineyards from which Dom Pérignon is sourced – as many as 300 different vineyards, from outside Reims to the Marne Valley. They have access to all the 17 Grands Crus vineyards in Champagne, specially Aÿ, Bouzy, Verzenay, Mailly, Chouilly, Cramant, Avize and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, as well as Hautvillers.
The selection of the grapes is rigorous, and the pickers wait for greater ripeness: thus, the Chef de Cave, Richard Geoffroy, may give more emphasis to pH (and acidity) than to sugars.
While a Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial ages on its lees for three years, a Dom Pérignon stays sur lie at least seven years, with a proportionally bigger depth of aromas. The blend includes slightly more Chardonnay than Pinot Noir, and a Dom Pérignon demands long aging to show its best, sometimes unfolding in complexity over decades. (Robert Parker considers the 2002 able to keep standing up to 2032!)
But one thing is to review the intrinsic qualities of a garment or of an object, as we already did with the Burberry trench coat and the Montblanc pens; another is to review the merits of wine, an evaluation that depends on the taster’s nose, palate and personal preferences, as well as experience. The more you drink, the more you develop a mental databank from which to extract notes such as previous tastings of that wine, who were you with, what did you eat with the wine, etc.
One thing we can tell you for sure is that a Dom Pérignon will not give you a tasting experience that will be five times better than the tasting of the Brut Impérial! It will surely be a different experience, and, to be honest, if you are not used to vintage Champagnes, in a blind tasting you may vote immediately for the non-vintage due to its vibrant, zesty nature. It is OK, for our preferences evolve as we gain mileage (or shall we say litrage) in the wine world.
We would recommend you to spend the extra bucks if (1) you are willing to enter the world of vintage Champagne, which many consider to include some of the best wines; (2) you want to celebrate a personal achievement or landmark with a great bubbly.
We would tell you not to spend on the Dom Pérignon if (1) it is only to impress someone (not a commendable attitude for a gentleman); (2) you have not tasted less expensive, but good, Champagnes before. If you don’t have the benchmark of these wines to compare a new wine with, you will not be able to develop your tasting abilities and enjoy the best wines. These come only with time and a hands-on (or better, a lips-on) attitude.
Whatever Champagne you ultimately choose, let’s make a toast to a great New Year to all!