The other evening I was sitting in Morrell Wine Bar & Cafe in Rockefeller Center sipping a glass of cool, pale Provençal rosé when I noticed in front of me on the bar an unfamiliar yet extremely handsome ice bucket. It was matte white and bore the legend Moët & Chandon. Nothing unusual there, but what caught my eye was the bottle sitting in the bucket. It was entirely encased in the same eye-catching white matte veneer with a contrasting black ribbon draped over the shoulders.
This was Moët & Chandon’s limited-edition Ice Imperial, this week’s wine of the week ($150 for a three-bottle gift pack including glasses and ice bucket).
Before I could query the bartender about this striking, apparently new cuvée, the mystery deepened further. She took two large goblets—no wimpy flutes for Ice Imperial, it seems—packed them with, yes, ice, filled them with the featured bubbly, and topped the concoction off with a sprig of mint.
This is definitely Champagne heresy, thought I. So to get a bead on what was going on here, the next day I called Benoit Gouez, chef de cave at Moët & Chandon—which is owned by French luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMUY) and asked him about Ice and the unconventional way in which it was being served.
It seems that Champagne sales are particularly slow in the summer. According to Gouez, "In the summer people are more relaxed and Champagne can be seen as too strict, too formal. So the idea was to propose something in a more casual atmosphere.
"When the weather is warm, we had also noticed that some consumers, especially in the south of France, had started using ice cubes in their Champagne. But if you do it with classic Champagne which is not made for that, the effect of the ice will really affect the taste of the Champagne and you end up with something that is watery and winey and not that good."
Hence the creation of Ice Imperial. It’s richer, with a more robust flavor profile and a higher amount of sugar than traditional cuvées. This results in a summer Champagne that works splendidly with ice.
"Free, fun and fresh!" is the marketing tag Moët & Chandon is pushing for Ice, and it makes sense.
As Gouez says, it’s "fun, more casual, less formal but also free, to let people play with the wine, to personalize their drink, to let them add a garnish that might enhance flavors they find in the wine." I tried it with mint, cucumber, and strawberries and all were delicious.
Champagne is about the most conservative wine region there is, but by thinking outside the cuvée, Moët & Chandon has come up with a new, charming, and hugely quaffable summer aperitif.
Ice Imperial is being poured at select bars and restaurants in major U.S. cities. At retail it is only available as a gift pack containing three bottle of Ice, six custom white goblets, and that matte white ice bucket for $150.
To find this wine near you, try Wine Searcher.
When to Drink: Now
Breathing/Decanting: Not necessary
Food Pairing: Hors d’oeuvres
Grapes: Chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot meunier
Price: $150 for three-bottle gift pack