Last year, chef Ambra Papa and sommelier Raphael Laurent of Petersham Nurseries won Gosset Matchmakers. Held at Le Cordon Bleu London, the unique competition saw five chef and sommelier teams compete for victory by devising an original dish to pair with Gosset Blanc de Blancs.
Papa and Laurent won themselves a money-can't-buy trip to the home of Gosset in Champagne, meeting the people who make the wine, its cellar master and spending time with president Jean-Pierre Cointreau himself.
After a quick stop off in Paris for lunch, it was full steam ahead to Épernay, where the group was met by their host for the trip – Bertrand Verduzier, export director.
Verduzier's knowledge on the history and finesse of Champagne's oldest house was imparted to the two winners, as he made pit stops en-route to Gosset's HQ, just off the Avenue de Champagne.
One such stop included a glass of Grande Reserve on the hills of Mutigny, overlooking the rolling valleys of the Champagne region. Verduzier revealed that this particular hill was also home to a paramount location in the history of champagne, Dom Pérignon's Abbaye Saint-Pierre d'Hautvillers.
The crispy, fruity flavours of the Grande Reserve were almost heightened in the cold Champagne air. Flavours that are something unique to Champagne. Unlike its competitors, Gosset champagnes are not softened by the use of malolactic fermentation, maintaining fresh, crisp, green fruit flavours. It is a technique that calls on the brand to age its wines for a lot longer than other houses, but with a result that's more than worth the wait.
With day one drawing to a close, it was time to add some food into the equation. Hostellerie La Briqueterie served as the setting for the winners' dinner, attended by Verduzier and Cointreau. The decadent, truffle-laden meal was accompanied by a selection of fine champagnes from the Gosset portfolio. With its fresh, zesty flavours and crisp mousse, Gosset showed its worth as the perfect food pairing wine.
Day two began with a tour of the Gosset cellars, 1.7 km of twisting and turning tunnels deep below the winery. The brand has a long-standing relationship with more than 200 growers, all loyal to the brand, so the quality is carefully controlled. Returning above ground, Papa and Laurent were treated to perhaps the most special activity of all, a blending session with Gosset’s cellar master, Odilon de Varine.
Eight base wines were sampled, each with its very own blending potential. A Cramant brought about a certain creamy, polished finesse, while a Avize offered high acidity and fresh, complex flavours of lemon rind and citrus. With all the base wines tasted, de Varine presented the table with three blended wines to analyse, himself still working on the wine. Papa and Laurent were given the opportunity to contribute to the blending of future Gosset champagnes.
Laurent praised the delicate complexity of the final blend – and quintessential Gosset freshness – changed and developed with even just a single drop.
After blending and lunch at the house, it was time to return to Blighty, but not without the final part of the pair's prize: a Gosset 15 Ans de Cave bottle, with Gosset's signature glassware and silver stopper, and a personally engraved ice bucket.
'For me, it's a competition like I've never seen before,' said Papa. 'It was about the creativity and working with new people, doing something challenging. I've never done anything like it before, we need more competitions like this one.'
Gosset Matchmakers will return for chefs and sommeliers later this year...