Tasting with Veuve Clicquot’s distinguished cellar master Dominique Demarville is always an insightful experience and our 2018 vins clairs visit was no exception. Rather than simply showcasing the most impressive wines of the harvest, Demarville prepared an educational tasting, sharing wines from all over Champagne. “These are not the best of the best… it is a picture [of the vintage],” he told us. “Some of them are exceptional, some of them are good… none of them are bad!”
Veuve Clicquot were one of the first houses to start picking last year, commencing with the Chardonnays in the village of Montgueux on 23rd August 2018. Demarville explained that, as they do not know which plots are going to be kept as reserve wines during harvest, he looks for 10.8-11 degrees potential alcohol in the grapes: “At this alcohol level they will age well.”
Even though they started early, Demarville acknowledged that one of greatest challenges last year was ensuring that nervous growers did not pick too soon. “In 2017, the grapes were damaged so quickly… therefore people wanted to pick early this year,” he said.
Overall, Demarville seemed pleased with the harvest: “This is a good year for the Chef de Cave, definitely much better than 2017.” The average pH was between 3.10-3.19 and Demarville did malolactic fermentation on almost all of the wines, blocking the process on just 10% of his supply. “I am very confident of the ageing potential of the 2018 wines,” he added.
2018 Vins Clairs
As we’d discovered elsewhere, the variance in character between each base wine at Veuve Clicquot was substantially more pronounced than usual. “The difference between each house is usually quite large,” Demarville said. “This year, the different plots on different slopes and from different supplies in each village show very different characteristics.”
Of the grape varieties, Demarville’s preference was for the Pinot Meunier, but he noted that “the Pinot Noir is also very good”, whereas “the Chardonnay was the most challenging.” The first still wine we tasted was the première taille (the 500 litres of juice pressed after the cuvée, the first 2,050 litres), which is not typically used in champagne production due to its lower acidity and higher tannin content. The blend we tasted was a ‘black taille’ – a blend of Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir grapes – 12% of which went into the 2018 Yellow Label NV blend.
|PINOT MEUNIER AND PINOT NOIR | Première Taille
Loads of strawberry, very charming and short.
|PINOT MEUNIER | Vallée de la Marne | Autre Cru: Dormans
Picked: 31st August | Potential Alcohol: 10.2 | pH: 3.17
Lots of fresh fruit with tropical notes like pineapple and very generous ripe apple. Great freshness and loads of grapefruit. Will go into reserves as so good.
|PINOT MEUNIER | Montagne de Reims | Premier Cru: Ville-Dommange
Picked: 2nd September | Potential Alcohol: 10.6 | pH: 3.14
Loads of pear, apples and pineapple with hints of spice. Very good balance and has freshness from the acidity and strong texture. Maybe destined for the vintage.
|PINOT MEUNIER | Montagne de Reims | Premier Cru: Ludes
Picked: 25th August | Potential Alcohol: 10 | pH: 3.12
Spicy apples with generous fruit, lots of tropical notes and great texture, though ends quite short. Dominique thinks it was picked perhaps 2-3 days too early.
The Pinot Noirs were remarkably forward, already quite mature with incredible freshness and ripeness. Demarville told us that the great success story in 2018 was the region that stretches across the northern Montagne de Reims, running from Ville-Dommange in the west, to Verzy in the east. “It was the perfect year for this area,” he said, singling out Verzenay in particular as one of Veuve Clicquot’s very best vins clairs.
|PINOT NOIR | Barséquanais | Autre Cru: Loches-sur-Ource
Picked: 27th August | Potential Alcohol: 9.7 | pH: 3.1
Really forward and perfumed with peaches, ripe juicy lemon and lychees. The darker cherry and raspberry fruits seem to add a spicy edge to the palate. Has power and energy. Dominique says a good reserve wine.
|PINOT NOIR | Montagne de Reims | Premier Cru: Tauxières-Mutry
Picked: 29th August | Potential Alcohol: 10.6 | pH: 3.13
Really lovely ripe citrus fruits, redcurrant and spice. Good freshness and power on the palate.
|PINOT NOIR | Montagne de Reims | Grand Cru: Verzenay
Picked: 26th August | Potential Alcohol: 10.5 | pH: 3.14
Tighter nose but makes up for it on the palate – very elegant, rich and structured. Dominique believes this will make La Grande Dame, “often half the blend”.
|PINOT NOIR | Vallée de la Marne | Grand Cru: Aÿ
Picked: 4th September | Potential Alcohol: 11 | pH: 3.15
Unctuous fruit with generous red and dark fruit character. Great texture but is very soft and lacks structure. Dominique cites this as an example of ripeness gone too far.
|PINOT NOIR | Montagne de Reims | Grand Cru: Verzy
Picked: 25th August | Potential Alcohol: 10.1 | pH: 3.11
Lovely alluring smoky character with great energy on the palate. Has good freshness and loads of peaches and really bright red apples.
|PINOT NOIR | Montagne de Reims | Grand Cru: Bouzy
Picked: 26th August | Potential Alcohol: 10.8 | pH: 3.1
This shows the freshness of the acidity that really helps this wine. Loads of ripe fruits, great texture and good length.
Although more challenging than the other varieties, the quality of the Chardonnays was by no means poor. Complete and round, with impressive volume, acidity and surprising spicy notes, the four examples we tasted were very good. Montgueux, the village where Clicquot began their harvest, was our pick of the bunch – it was used to bring energy and freshness to the Yellow Label NV blend.
|CHARDONNAY | Côte des Blancs | Autre Cru: Montgueux
Picked: 23rd August | Potential Alcohol: 10.5 | pH: 3.19
Lots of ripe pear and spice. Has volume, power and freshness. High pH wines can have a great finish – this will go to Yellow Label eventually, but for now into the reserves.
|CHARDONNAY | Montagne de Reims | Premier Cru: Villers-Marmery
Picked: 29th August | Potential Alcohol: 10.5 | pH: 3.15
Ripe fruit like mango and pineapple and wow great freshness. Strength, power and class.
|CHARDONNAY | Côte des Blancs | Grand Cru: Cramant
Picked: 2nd September | Potential Alcohol: 10.7 | pH: 3.11
Lots of spice comes forward and a lot of ripe apple. Really pretty and elegant with freshness and salinity. Dominique says one of best cru in the winery this year.
|CHARDONNAY | Côte des Blancs | Grand Cru: Avize
Picked: 31st August | Potential Alcohol: 10.2 | pH: 3.17
Lots of apple and spice. Quite fleshy and powerful though less appealing on the palate. Seems to be lacking texture.
We finished our base wine tasting with the completed Yellow Label NV blend. The reserve wine content this year is just 26% (the oldest wine being Le Mesnil-sur-Oger 2001), exactly half the 52% used in last year’s blend – a testament to the power and maturity of the 2018 wines. Indeed, this year’s assemblage is marked by an abundance of fruity generosity, great length and a delightful crispiness.
We also sampled red wine from the famous Clos Colin, a 1.5 hectare plot located in the Grand Cru village of Bouzy. This warm, south-facing parcel sits on prime mid-slope soil and is notorious for producing Pinot Noir of astounding richness and complexity, so good that Veuve Clicquot produce a still red wine from the grapes.
|Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label NV Assemblage | Base Vintage: 2018
52% PN, 30% CH, 18% PM | Reserve Wine: 26%
Has lots of ripeness in the fruits, freshness on the palate and texture is looking great pre-second fermentation. Look forward to the Yellow Label NV from 2018 base. Showing generous and powerful before it even benefits from the lees effect.
|RED WINE | Montagne de Reims | Grand Cru: Bouzy | Plot: Clos Colin
Picked: 25th August | Potential Alcohol: 13.2% | pH: 3.24
Very ripe fruits and big, soft tannins. So much red fruit – dark blackberry and black cherry.
Our visit concluded with a bottle of the recently released La Grande Dame 2008. As Clicquot’s prestige cuvée is produced only in the most exceptional vintages, La Grande Dame 2008 will be on the market for the next few years, to be succeeded eventually by La Grande Dame 2012, which, Demarville teased, “could be better than 2008.”
|Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2008 | 19.5/20
92% PN, 8% CH | Lees Ageing: 10 Years | Disgorged: July 2018 | Dosage: 6 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 8 Months
Lovely purity of fruit and loads of pear, apples and blackberries. On the palate it really builds – the layers of lees ageing seem to leap out and the fruit comes forward with loads of freshness. The saline finish makes it seems really light and refreshing. Can see this one ageing very well, precise and pure with freshness. I would estimate this going on and on, like the 1979, for 30+ years.