Just weeks before our scheduled appointment at Veuve Clicquot earlier this summer it was announced that cellar master Dominique Demarville would be leaving at the end of the year, having served thirteen of them in charge. Somewhat shocked by this news – the role has been held until retirement unanimously by prior incumbents – we were also saddened, as it meant that our upcoming visit to Clicquot would likely be the last with Demarville at the helm.
Fortunately, he had prepared a tasting that we were unlikely to forget anytime soon. With the hype surrounding 2008 still very much alive and kicking, Demarville decided to highlight the vintage from Clicquot’s perspective, showing the non-vintage blend based on 2008; the prestige cuvée La Grande Dame 2008; Vintage 2008; and the rosé equivalents of the vintage champagnes.
“The potential of ageing for the 2008s is fantastic,” said Demarville. To illustrate his point, we began with a magnum of Yellow Label NV, their flagship champagne which accounts for an astonishing 85% of production (and 92% if you include the brut rosé, which is based on the same blend). We were told that the four pillars of Yellow Label are power, intensity, freshness and silkiness.
Demarville chose to show one of the magnums, which are aged on the lees for two years longer than the bottles, stating, “the magnum effect is often greater than we think.” In 2008, just 29% reserve wines were used in the non-vintage blend (typically this figure is 40-45%; a testament to the power of the vintage), primarily from 2007, 2006, 2005 and 2004, with just a dash from 1993 (“reserve wines are like the spices we use in the kitchen”).
Originally released in 2015 (the current base vintage for magnums is 2012), base vintage 2008 shows just how well Yellow Label NV can age. A champagne not typically produced with long-term ageing in mind, it is still ripe, fresh and crispy more than seven years post-disgorgement; only just now starting to show hints of dropping off its peak.
Though it is custom in champagne tastings for the vintage tier champagne to follow the non-vintage and the prestige cuvée to then follow the vintage, Demarville showed La Grande Dame next and the Vintage Reserve last. He aims for lightness and freshness with the prestige cuvée, preferring power, richness and intensity in the brut vintage, which is why he switched their tasting order .”La Grande Dame is a wine in which freshness and brightness must be pushed, whereas the overall Veuve Clicquot style is full-bodied and rich.”
It speaks volumes of the time intensive nature of champagne production that La Grande Dame 2008, released earlier this year (which is of course now Demarville’s last at Clicquot), was the first he produced alone – no doubt a significant reason why many a chef de cave stay put for a career. It takes years, and sometimes decades, for the fruits of one’s labour to hit the market.
Demarville really broke the mold for his first vintage, upping the Pinot Noir content to 92% (the previous vintage, LGD 2006, was 53%). The red grapes came mostly from the north – 37% Verzy, 23% Bouzy, 14% Verzenay, 14% Aÿ, and 4% Ambonnay – while the “small touch [8%] of Chardonnay [which] supports and pushes the Pinot Noir style” came from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.
Vintage Reserve 2008 is the only champagne in the range with oak vinification. Five percent of the wines are aged in oak barrels (50% of which are one-year-old, 50% are brand new): “any more than 5% brings too much oakiness.” Whereas La Grande Dame is all energy and dynamism, Vintage Reserve is more open and round, a “very gastronomic wine” that is obviously a Veuve Clicquot more than it is obviously a 2008.
Both vintage rosé champagnes are identical blends to their blanc siblings, with 14% red wine added for colour and tannins. The red wine for La Grande Dame Rosé 2008 comes from the prized 1.6 hectare Clos Colin vineyard in Bouzy. This mid-slope plot sits “perfectly exposed to the south” and its 26-year-old Pinot Noir vines consistently produce astoundingly rich and complex wine, so good that Clicquot bottle some as a standalone Coteaux Champenois.
“There is always a bit of reduction in the rosé from the red Pinot Noir… which I love,” Demarville told us, comparing it to Chambolle, which has a similar line of elegance. La Grande Dame Rosé 2008, with its big, powerful nose and hint of bitterness on the finish, is apparently similar in style to the first vintage of La Grande Dame Rosé, 1988. Though it is now out of his control, Demarville believes the rosé could benefit from some further time maturing in the cellars, and hopes that “the rosé can be released a little later than the blanc in future”.
|Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label NV Magnum | 17.5/20
50% PN, 29.5% CH, 20.5% PM | Base Vintage: 2008 | Reserve Wine: 29% | Lees Ageing: 3 Years | Disgorged: 2012 | Dosage: 10 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 7 Years
So much reductive character and that ripe rich fruit. Peaches and apricot are dominant, then you see dried fruits, some pineapple and bitter orange. This is really engaging as has such richness, freshness, beautifully mineral and saline on the end. A few minutes later the dried fruit concentration really comes forward and has good minerality at the end to give the energy and vibrancy.
|Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2008 | 19/20
92% PN, 8% CH | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: January 2018 | Dosage: 6 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 17 Months
Bright yellow fruits with loads of plums and raspberry and black cherry. At present its youth is showing; its full of energy and has the 2008 fresh acidity keeping it clean and fresh. After a little time in the glass more dimension starts to appear, the dried fruits are just coming through and that hint of creaminess from the Chardonnay is also a little creamy. Elegant and pure, this should age like the 1989, which is still showing very well.
|Veuve Clicquot Vintage Reserve 2008 | 18/20
61% PN, 34% CH, 5% PM | Lees Ageing: 7 Years | Disgorged: November 2016 | Dosage: 8 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 3 Years
Lovely restrained apple and peach notes. Quite subtle on the palate, but loads of acidty and just a hint of sweetness.
|Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Rosé 2008 | 19+/20
92% PN, 8% CH | Red Wine: 14% | Lees Ageing: 8 Years | Disgorged: May 2017 | Dosage: 6 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Years
Straight off you get a hint of reduction; that smoky character that shows itself so charmingly in this champagne. The red wine comes from the single vineyard Clos Colin, where the 29 year old vines have that Chambolle Musigny character and there are hints of that in this rosé, with some body and structure from the red wine. Has more Chardonnay character than you’d expect for 8% of the blend, which adds a nice creamy elememt and the red wine addition adds a touch of bitterness which is a real positive, a bit like a bitter red cherry. There is a bundle of ripe black cherry and hints of tropical fruit such as peach and pineapple, and finishes with a hint of salinity keeping this champagne pure and fresh. The best 2008s are all like this; everything is very pure – the sign of very clean fruit at harvest.
|Veuve Clicquot Vintage Reserve Rosé 2008 | 18/20
61% PN, 34% CH, 5% PM | Red Wine: 14% | Dosage: 8 g/l
Lots of strawberry and peach with a nice freshness and lightness. Such fruit intensity on the palate, with raspberry, peach and nectarine shining through. Nice fresh chalk character and hints of tannins.
We concluded our tasting with two back vintages of La Grande Dame, as Demarville put it, “for fun”. The twist was that the younger La Grande Dame 1989 was an original disgorgement, having undergone 5 years lees ageing, with 8 g/l dosage; whilst the older La Grande Dame 1979 was disgorged just last year, after 38 years on the lees, and given just 4 g/l dosage.
This is an experiment of particular interest to Demarville, who, under the tutorship of the great Michel Feuillat, studied lees ageing in Burgundy. The question for Demarville is, should champagne be aged with longer lees contact and less dosage; or with fewer years’ lees ageing and more dosage? “For the first five to six years the lees give the wine peptides, amino acids, proteins etc,” he told us, “after this time they don’t give anything to the wine, but the amino acids and proteins [which are dependent on the vintage] continue the ageing process.” The answer to whether champagne should simply be left longer on the lees therefore, depends somewhat on the vintage.
Vintage differences aside, the younger 1989 certainly seemed more evolved than the older 1979, suggesting that longer lees ageing does in fact promote long-term youth and vibrancy. Both were produced by Demarville’s predecessor, Jacques Peters, who joined in 1979 and trained Demarville before passing the baton; a duty which now falls to Demarville, who will be succeeded by Didier Mariotti of G.H. Mumm at the end of the year. Mariotti will work alongside Demarville for the next three months, learning to be a custodian of the inimitable Clicquot style, before Demarville departs for Laurent-Perrier in 2020.
|Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 1989 | 19/20
60% PN, 40% CH | Lees Ageing: 5 Years | Disgorged: 1995 | Dosage: 8 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 24 Years
Very deep colour; an attractive orange/green and the aromatics leap out of the glass. There is much richness to the fruit and freshness from the acidity – it tastes young for its age. A few minutes after serving you get the more intricate flavours like chocolate, dried fruits and apricot freshness and the texture is rich and round. Beautiful example of how well LGD from a good vintage will age. Dominique believes this has several decades of life ahead.
|Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 1979 | 20/20
67% PN, 33% CH | Lees Ageing: 38 Years | Disgorged: 2018 | Dosage: 4 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year
The aromatics have so much lanolin, candied fruits and creamy patisserie. Kind of has a “golden quality” and the palate is amazingly fresh and zesty and a round texture with flavours going on long. Loads of chocolate and an underlying zesty freshness with bundles of tangerine. Champagnes like these 79s always have that glorious textural pleasure. Gets better and better with time in the glass. Wonderful.