“You know, I used to say if we combined wine and music, the instrument would be the terroir; the notes, the cuvée; the player, the chef de cave; and the acoustics would be time,” says Dom Pérignon winemaker Jean-Baptiste Terlay, who arrived in Kuala Lumpur to launch the maison’s Plénitude 2 2004 (P2 04).
For those who are unfamiliar, Dom Pérignon’s Plénitude offerings are late-release vintages matured for an extended number of years. Plénitude 2 champagnes release 15 to 18 years later and Plénitude 3, over 25 years, when the energy develops and complexity evolves. The decision to disgorge, of course, is also at the discretion of the chef de cave, Vincent Chaperon. While the Vintage 2004 may be exquisite on its own, one would undoubtedly find the P2 04 superlative.
“In the beginning, the Plénitude was not supposed to be sold,” Terlay discloses. “In fact, it was more like a collection or patrimony for the winemakers because when you arrive at Dom Pérignon, you need to learn how the wines evolve. And a good way to learn about the future is to look at the past.”
In retrospect, the foundation of the harmony attained by Dom Pérignon wines was built many years ago. After a tumultuous season of heatwaves and frost, 2004 was declared a time of renaissance and calm, and it yielded a generous harvest. “The 04 is a fantastic vintage because we had a wonderful, perfect season.”
But this is not always guaranteed, considering the effects of climate change. Terlay remarks, however, that rising temperatures may not be too detrimental to champagne. “The enemy of champagne is too much humidity. Now that the summers are drier, it’s a good thing for the vine.”
But the same cannot be said for the soil. “The sun has a very strong impact on the soil because it’s activating oxidation. We have to cover the soil and help the plant adapt — because when we plant a vine, it’s for the next 50 years. We’re all about adaptation, adaptation, adaptation.”
The way champagne is appreciated has also evolved over the years. What was once a clink-only bubbly is increasingly dedicated to gastronomy. Terlay says: “It still depends on the vintage of course. For example, the 02, which is more of a Mediterranean vintage, pairs well with spices and Asian dishes.” What about the star of the night? “The 04 is versatile also, but it cannot work with fattiness. You need weightlessness with the 04.”
The task was entrusted to chef Darren Chin, whose DC Restaurant recently earned a Michelin star. Chin, who is also Dom Pérignon’s Malaysian ambassador, enjoys the multi-layered taste profile of the P2 04. He says: “There is lightness, strength and powerful notes of freshness. It’s not a normal vintage DP — it carries a different level of expression.” He shares that the menu of the evening will also feature one of his favourites, the Vintage 2012.
The four-course dinner, held at DC Restaurant’s beautiful Moonbar, started with South African abalone with smoked French Ratte potatoes, charred Swiss chard and abalone dashi. “The smokiness gives it a kind of opulence and elevation to the taste profile of the wine. We steamed the abalone for close to four hours to really tenderise it and give it an unctuous texture. And that’s accentuated with the dashi,” says Chin. The dish enhanced the mystery and minerality of the Vintage 2012, an explosive and elaborate champagne imbued with vigour.
Up next were Scottish diver scallops. “It’s all seafood-centric, as you can see,” says Chin. “We don’t want to overshadow the wine. We want it to shine through and allow our clients to really taste the different layers of this great champagne.” Sitting atop a bed of autumn peas with white balsamico and air-dried beef cecina and blanketed with a sheet of marble gluten-free pasta, the scallops were served with a bit of watercress for a touch of bitterness. It did not take much for our company of French, Italian and Malaysian food lovers — table etiquette and formalities had waned by this point — to mop up the delicious whipped mariniere sauce and foamy clam jus with bread delivered at the beginning of the meal.
On its own, the P2 04 is best described as elegant and delicate, with an energy that is understated yet distinctively radiant. On the nose, it opens with citrus notes of ripe grapefruit and blood orange that gently cede to creamy figs. Brioche, cocoa and roasted nuts come in faintly with a whirl of honey. The sensations are immediate on the palate, with a tactile precision that balances between tension and weightlessness. The sparks it ignites are not the kind that sends shivers down your spine, but rather a warmth that envelops the heart. This ardour is multiplied when paired with Chin’s thoughtful dishes.
“There’s something I learnt from a French writer, and he was talking about the emotions you have when you age,” shares Terlay. “You don’t have the same emotions when you are young versus when you are old. When you are young, you are more about desire and pleasure. When you become an adult, it’s more happiness. It’s a deeper emotion. And when you have the chance to grow old, you are not looking for [what appeals to the] senses anymore. It’s more spiritual; it’s joy. And joy is the thing we want to quit this world with.
“It’s the same with wine. The vintage talks to the senses, the P2 talks to the heart, and when you taste the P3, it’s like a spiritual message. When you taste wines from the 1960s or 1970s, you are in another world.”
Chin also took this opportunity to present his restaurant’s signature dish in a different light. “This is the upgraded version of the Echo of the Sea. Served in a snow crab shell, it has a little bit of liver custard at the bottom, topped with our signature cold pasta dish and crab. It’s a dish that showcases our restaurant and a recipe that is timeless.” The standout course was perhaps the one that stood most abreast with the P2 04 — a glowing marriage of time-honed creations that perfectly represented their makers.
The evening wrapped up with a Mille-Feuille, assembled with 70%-cacao local Kelantanese chocolate cream, dark caramel choux and raspberry jam, by pastry chef Hazel Chan.
“You know, Asia by far is the most focused and involved in details,” Terlay opines. “We see that in your way of life and the way you do things. Everything is just perfect. Everything has an idea behind it and there is no compromise. That pairs perfectly with the values of Dom Pérignon.”
This article first appeared on Dec 19, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.