The Chandon experience
Both the bubbly and the dress code were nice and bright.
NOT so long ago, I received an invitation to brunch with Lilian Carter, a winemaker from Domaine Chandon, the estate established in Australia by the renowned French champagne house, Moët & Chandon.
The invite described Carter as a “seasoned expert, and one with tremendous experience in winemaking”, who would be more than pleased to guide us through an exclusive preview on the flavours and styles of Chandon wines.
It sounded like a no-fuss, pleasant sort of affair, so after the carnage of Saturday night I dragged myself over to 7ate9, at the Ascott Kuala Lumpur, looking forward to bubbly and brunch with Carter.
Brunch, of course, was invented so that Saturday night party goers could sleep in. It’s a relaxed sort of activity, a time to drown away the week’s worries (and discuss embarrassing incidents from the night before).
Now, I was all decked out for a casual event: if you say “gala dinner”, I’ll go out and get a gown, but say “brunch” and you can expect me there in floral shorts, a bright green top, sandals, no makeup, unruly hair and a polka dot fedora with multicoloured feathers to hide it all.
To my shock and horror, the PR company had announced a dress code at the last minute and everyone there was dressed from head to toe in white. This would not have been so bad if they were middle-aged, dried up prunes in country casuals, but as luck would have it, the PR company had invited the tres chic fashionist as of KL who, as expected, came dressed as if it was the bloody royal wedding.
I was getting ready to leg it when a PR person turned up. After a number of introductions and explanations but very little warning, she whisked me off towards Carter: “Lilian, this is June from The Star, one of the top newspapers in this country.”
I shook Carter’s hand feeling more like “June from the sticks – one of the top hobbits in the Shire”. But as it turned out, I was one of the few people dressed for the occasion. Dressed in a simple white top, grey knee-length skirt and black flats, Carter explained: “Chandon is made in Australia, so we make the wines using the French méthode traditionnelle but at the same time, combine it with the Australian spirit, which is carefree and relaxed. So it’s a quality beverage designed to be enjoyed while you’re chilling out.”
The centuries-old “méthode traditionnelle” was developed in the Champagne region of France. After the grapes are pressed, the juice undergoes two separate fermentations, the second taking place in individual bottles for a period of 18 months. This produces the fine bubbles of great sparkling wine and adds layers of complexity and texture to the finished product. Méthode traditionnelle wines are made exclusively from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grape varieties.
What this means is that instead of, “A jolly versatile and delicious bubbly that goes with most mild dishes. Pricey, but worth it” the Chandon Brut can be described as follows: “Straw yellow in colour with flashes of green and a fine, persistent bead. A bright and fresh fruit bouquet of citrus blossom, subtle pear and white nectarine combines with savoury characters of roasted nuts and delicate spices. The entry is soft with generous primary fruit characters followed by a creamy mid-palate offering nougat and nectarines extending to a lingering and crisp brut finish.”
But why Australia?
“There are many different micro climates within the Yarra Valley (in the state of Victoria), as well as subtle variations in soil types. The combination of these factors offers many outstanding sites to grow the different types of grapes that are required for interesting and vibrant wines,” explained Carter, adding that Chandon works with over 30 independent growers to source the diversity of fruit required for Chandon wines.
During the growing season, Chandon’s viticulturists and winemakers visit many growers to assess progress in their vineyards, monitor the ripening of the grapes and select the perfect moment to harvest.
As I stuffed my face with more grilled fish and buttered potatoes, the MC got up on stage and announced: “Well ladies, it’s not every Sunday that we eat carbs, but we’re all having fun, right?”
I nearly choked. If by “fun” she meant eating in an extremely controlled manner so as not to spill anything over their whites while balancing themselves on 7ate9’s high stools and their own 5-inch heels … then these women were having a ball.
“Now it’s time to announce the winner of the BEST DRESSED COMPETITION!”
That announcement explained the situation but not the decision to put in a dress code. Unless Chandon’s PR people live in a universe where competition is key to relaxation.
“They asked everyone to wear white to keep it casual but I guess most Malaysians just enjoy dressing up,” Carter offered wisely.