The text of this article was first published in The World of Fine Wine issue 68 (June 2020)
LATEST, April 12, 2022: I asked Moët to give me an update on the release of MCIII 002. Here's the reply: "There isn’t any update to MCIII yet."
When Moët launched its sumptuous and pioneering MCIII in 2015, the first release was described as “the ultimate expression” of Champagne and was named 001.14. It sounds slightly James Bond, but the numbers simply refer to the chronology: cuvée number one followed by its disgorgement year, 2014. The second release, 002.16 or 002.17, we understood at the time, was in the pipeline. While the length of the pipeline wasn’t specified, it seemed fair to assume that it would appear two or three years later. Five years on, it’s still under wraps.
When I asked recently about the release of 002, in a one-to-one set up exclusively for The World of Fine to re-taste MCIII, chef de cave Benoît Gouez was happy to give some details about what has gone into it (more in a moment) but, as for the release date: “Hopefully in two years. Yes, it has been delayed. There are a couple of things to do. A work in progress. It’s about the architecture of the brand; brand identity.
“We could release the second version, but we have to finalise the brand. We’re considering changing the packaging, not just of MCIII but the range itself… The packaging is 20 years old. We feel the need for refreshment.” (If MCIII 002 came minus the large, and in my view ugly, metallic silver cap, it would be a start.)
Moët et Chandon's Chef de Cave Benoît Gouez in London in March 2020, where he described the yet to be released second MCIII as "a work in progress"
It seems a shade unlikely that packaging alone has delayed the release of the second cuvée – and there does seem to be something else at play. All mention of MCIII has been expunged from the Moët website (the link moet.com/mc3 yields ‘Page not found 404’). You can, however, still view a YouTube video introducing MCIII, uploaded by Moët Hennessy Selection in August 2015. It has an excruciating voiceover, but gives a flavour of the scope and ambition of the project: “We were mad enough to want to create the Champagne for the third millennium, to rethink everything, get past our own preconceived notions, go beyond the way things have always been done… craft a wine with a perfect balance of harmony and complexity… create an assemblage that had never been created before. We wanted [it] to be an icon of luxury for the new generation… breaking with tradition, rethinking everything, thinking like pioneers…”
In fact, there had been some sort of precedent in Esprit de Siècle, created for the millennium by the then chef de cave Dominique Foulon. He followed it, before retiring in 2001, with the idea for MCIII. For Esprit de Siècle, a blend of the best vintages of each decade, Moët dug deep into its unrivalled archival stocks of Champagne and used the remise en cercle practice of opening mature, disgorged, vintage champagnes and blending them. It was the first time it had been used positively rather than to ‘lose’ weak or unsatisfactory bottles.
MCIII is the second time Moët has used remise en cercle in this way, but it’s only one of three elements, or strata, as Moët calls them. The concept of MCIII is ageing in three different materials (“universes” in Moët words): metal, wood and glass. Remise en cercle is the third stratum and is 25% of the whole.
"Benoît Gouez has lowered the dosage of all Moet’s Champagnes but is no fan of non dosé and ultra-low dosage styles"
The other two strata, each 35-40%, are, first, still wines fermented and aged in stainless steel vats and, second, vintage blends partially aged in large oak casks then kept (as vins clairs) in stainless steel. The primary (stainless steel) stratum is a 50:50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the 2003 vintage, to give fruitiness. The second (oak cask) stratum is Grand Vintage blends of 1998, 2000 and 2002 for smoothness and sweetness of texture: 2002 for richness, 2000 for freshness and 1998 for elegance. The glass-bottle remise en cercle stratum is made up of three Grand Vintage Collection Champagnes: 1993, for freshness and energy, 1998 for elegance (as in the second stratum) and 1999 for richness. Gouez drives home the point that the youngest component (2003) is the richest, while the oldest is the freshest.
It was bottled in 2004 and thus spent ten years on its lees. The dosage was 5g/l. Since becoming chef de cave in 2005, Gouez has lowered the dosage of all Moet’s Champagnes but is no fan of non dosé and ultra-low dosage styles, which he believes age too quickly. As for the ageing potential of MCIII 001.14, he says another 5–10 years will be no problem. While it’s not a rule, his formula is that ageing potential equals time on lees, plus a bit, giving MCIII 10–15 years and Grand Vintage Collection Champagnes, aged on lees for 15 years, 15–20 years.
Tasting 001.14 for the second time, five years on, I was struck again on the one hand by the powerfully Burgundian, ‘winey’ character and quality, not just in the satin-smooth creamy, buttery texture but the flavours themselves, and on the other hand by the thrilling brightness and freshness that emerge out of layer upon layer of honey, toasted walnut, concentrated candied-citrus, and patisserie sweetness. It’s an extraordinarily complex Champagne, a mature but not an old-tasting one. The effervescence seems low (as I also noted in 2015), but it was bottled with the usual 24g of sugar to give 6 bar. Gouez says that it might be less fizzy or it might be that the feeling of richness lessens the sensation of effervescence. Either way, it probably increases the echo of great white Burgundy, which the wine glass in which is further enhanced by the wine glass in which it is purposely served.
"The second expression is different. Not radically different, but it has slightly more energy and tension"
And so to MCIII 002 and, not least, to how one follows a base wine like 2003. Gouez’s requirement for the first stratum is richness and ripeness, not acidity. So, the 2004 vintage was discounted as far too light, the team having learnt from the unsuccessful first attempt at MCIII, with 1998 as the base wine, that lighter vintages don’t work (for Gouez: “1998 is very sophisticated and refined but not powerful.”). The next vintage, 2006, was not only deemed to have the necessary “richness and ampleness” but shares “the shoulders and structure and the bitterness” of 2003. Bitterness can sound slightly alarming, but Gouez and his team use it to refer to a tannic element.
As with 001.14, the vintages in 002 stretch back over 20 years, the oldest being 1996 – an interesting inclusion because Gouez is not a great fan of the vintage. At a tasting later the same day, he described the high-acid 1996 vintage as “clearly overrated”, many of the wines “already oxidised and falling apart… I am not obsessed with acidity. It has never been a guarantee of ageing potential.” Presumably, for 002, the 1996 component has been kept fresh by resting on its lees.
One change for 002 is a smaller proportion – 20% – of the third stratum, because if too much is used, he explained, “it tends to close down the wine, to make it too reductive”. I wondered, then, how similar 002 is to 001. “It’s very difficult to speak about. They have similarities because of the concept, the oak and remise en cercle, but as the base wines and vintages are different, the second expression is different. Not radically different but it has slightly more energy and tension.” I can’t wait to taste it. In 2022? Watch this space.
Photographs by Joanna Simon