KELLI BRETT examines the ingredients for a perfect pairing.

Do you look at the food menu first? Or the wine list? I always look at the food, and I don’t like to have to think so hard about my dining experience that I am exhausted by it all. And sometimes I don’t take the wine pairing offered because I just want to drink what I know I like to drink. But I do often wonder about what the food does for the wine and what the wine does for the food. Also, there are two things I’ve learned from the multitude of dégustation dinners that I’ve had the privilege to attend over the past few years. First, a successful pairing of a dish and a drink is an art and a huge commitment undertaken by the chef and the sommelier, almost like an arranged marriage. Whether the dish is created and then finds the perfect wine partner or the chosen wine leads the search for a perfect plate to match, the result – depending on the skill of those making the decisions – can take what is already an exceptional dish and an outstanding wine to an unbelievably heightened experience. Second, when you are lucky enough to have this experience you will want to have it again. You are only human after all.

As renowned Moët & Chandon cellar master Benoît Gouez travelled the world recently to unveil a collection of three exceptional Grand Vintage Champagnes, he was looking to tell not only a unique story for each, but also a shared tale across three decades choosing three remarkable years where all wines were touched by similar climatic condition: heat, drought and extraordinary sunshine. And, he was looking to build a relationship with chefs that understood this.

One such opportunity was an intimate dinner held at Sydney’s The Dining Room & Terrace, a two-hatted restaurant within the magnificent Shell House hospitality venue. While this gave culinary director Joel Bickford and head chef Aaron Ward the opportunity to collaborate with one of the world’s largest Champagne producers, creating the food for such a prestigious event came with great responsibility. For nearly three centuries Moët & Chandon has been sharing the effervescence of Champagne with the world and expectations would be super-high.

Now pairing food and drink is never an exact science, but a superb understanding of the interplay between taste, texture and aroma is mandatory. In this case, the wine would be the catalyst with each dish needing to match the ripeness of each exquisite vintage and highlight the dialogue between the dish and the unique flavour profile of each Champagne. All of this while remaining true to Joel and Aaron’s commitment to showcase Australian provenance and bear the mark of the Mediterranean way of life. The result was a menu that told the stories of food, wine, environment, climate and place in equal measure. I’ve brought you home a taste.

THE MENU

GRAND VINTAGE 2015,‘LUMINOUS MORNING’
Spanner crab, caviar, white turnip, yuzu

A delicate dish of sweet soft crab, designed not to overwhelm the palate and yet spiked with Champagne. Benoît has nicknamed this Grand Vintage ‘Luminous Morning’ and he remarks that 2015 was the year that he realised the tremendous effect of global warming not only on their grapes but also the style of their wines, and that the 2015 vintage – a blend of 44% pinot noir, 32% chardonnay and 24% meunier – marked the start of a new era.

GRAND VINTAGE COLLECTION 2006,
‘DAZZLING ZENITH’

Coral trout, mussel, fennel, lobster bisque

The 2006 called for the generous, buttery textures of a rich lobster bisque enveloping the milder flavours of trout and mussel. Fragrant fennel cut through the smoky notes in this Champagne that Benoît describes as full bodied and stretched, made from grapes harvested across a year marked by a cold winter, frosty spring and intermittent heatwaves in summer followed by hot, dry conditions. A strong sun helped ripen the chardonnay (42%) in an assemblage that also included a moderately ripe pinot noir (39%), and a relatively fragile meunier (19%).

GRAND VINTAGE ROSÉ 2015
Spatchcock, spiced carrot, chickpea and pomegranate

A rosé from the 2015 vintage was showcased in addition to the chosen trilogy and performed a perfectly choreographed dance with the spatchcock. The earthiness of carrot and chickpeas stand well with the powerful and spicy profile of this vintage rosé, the 45th in the house’s history, with a mix of pinot noir (52%), chardonnay (27%) and meunier (21%). The pomegranate aligns the sweetness associated with the ripe, dark, fruity bouquet.

GRAND VINTAGE COLLECTION 1999,
‘VIBRANT TWILIGHT’
Tête de Moine, pecan, pineapple, black pepper

This mature Grand Vintage Collection Champagne, aged for 21 years in Moët & Chandon’s cellars, required roasted notes, strictly controlled bitterness and dark spices to complement the warm, toasty and generous wine, and chef Aaron Ward and the team certainly took home the gold with this pairing. It was a spectacular finish that showcased absolute commitment to the marriage between dish and glass. The pecan pulled out the nutty flavours in this powerful Champagne, the pineapple followed the notes from a tropical summer’s end marked by high heat and torrential rains with the meunier (31%) standing out amongst the other grape varietals, in a blend that also contained pinot noir (38%) and chardonnay (31%).

Housed in a collectable wooden case, fewer than 1000 collections of the Tale of Light Trilogy are available worldwide and can be purchased in New Zealand from late 2023 exclusively at Shop Moët. The Grand Vintage 2015 is available from The Good Wine Co.