Having waited nearly four years for a new vintage of Veuve Clicquot’s prestige cuvée champagne (La Grande Dame 2006 was released in October 2015), we were particularly excited when the house finally announced the arrival of Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2008 and Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Rosé 2008 – both launched in London yesterday.
La Grande Dame is of course dedicated to one of the most influential women in Champagne’s history. Madame Clicquot, “The Great Lady”, was obsessed with improving the quality of her champagne and as such, La Grande Dame – launched in 1972 with the 1962 vintage – is a marriage of the best wines in Veuve Clicquot’s estate.
In London to launch the long awaited new vintage was Chef de Cave Dominique Demarville, for whom 2008 holds particular significance. Demarville joined Veuve Clicquot in 2006 and, after working under previous Chef de Cave Jacques Peters for two years, officially took over the reins at the end of 2008. “The vintage was a perfect balance of power and depth, energy and beautiful acidity. It was a wonderful gift [by the outgoing Peters],” Demarville remarked.
Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2008
La Grande Dame is an exceptionally rare champagne – 2008 is just the third vintage since La Grande Dame 1998. Demarville commented, “La Grande Dame could be released a little more often based on the quality of the vintages”, however explained that the house navigates a careful balance between declaring vintages and ensuring that enough high-quality wines go into the reserve program for Yellow Label NV.
He highlighted several key elements in the production of La Grande Dame. Only Grand Cru vineyards go into the blend – five Pinot Noir (Ambonnay, Aÿ, Bouzy, Verzennay and Verzy) and five Chardonnay (Avize, Le Mesnil, Oger). Madame Clicquot purchased vineyards in these villages when she first began her business for reasons – notably complexity and minerality – that are as important now as they were then, thus they are still the primary choice when searching for premium wines.
“My vision is to bring La Grande Dame towards the finesse and elegance that the Pinot Noir offers us in these Grand Crus. In a way, this is the Veuve Clicquot twist: to combine depth and silkiness with lightness and elegance in this exceptional cuvée” – Dominique Demarville
The provenance of Pinot Noir is especially important. La Grande Dame is one of the few prestige cuvée champagnes to have a Pinot Noir majority – normally around 60% – the proportion of which has been rising considerably in recent years. Indeed, Demarville cited the Pinot Noir content as one of the biggest changes he has made to the cuvée – La Grande Dame 2008 is produced with an astonishing 92% Pinot Noir. The next two vintages, 2012 and 2015, will also have more than 90% Pinot Noir.
Furthermore, as opposed to the vintage champagne, which features 10-15% barrel fermented wines, La Grande Dame is 100% fermented in stainless steel. The dosage – which is now printed on the back label, along with the disgorgement date – is also lower, at 6 g/l (compared to 10 g/l for the vintage).
|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: 1 Year
Quite tight on the nose right at the start but a few minutes later the depth is coming out; starts with lemon, pineapple and real purity and with more time the coffee notes and nuts start to show. A big mouthful, initially I was seduced by the texture, the long lees aging is obvious adding that layer of joy that gives some yeasty character but brings the richness to the mouthfeel which balances the bright acidity. Very bright fruit, yellow plums, lots of tropical notes like guava and pineapple, very clean and precise. On second taste I get more tangerine, nuts and redcurrants. The ending is long and dominated by a saline finish which brings great freshness to the end. Very good indeed with the hallmark Clicquot style blending perfectly in 2008.
|Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Rosé 2008 | 19+/20
53% PN, 47% CH | Red Wine: 14% | Lees Ageing: 8 Years | Disgorged: May 2017 | Dosage: 6 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Years
Light colour, no signs of ageing. Big nose with lovely fresh cherry, strawberry, redcurrant and a hint of that smoky reductive style. Very alluring nose with hints of the lees ageing. Full bodied on the palate with lots of lees character filling the mid-palate, loads of redcurrant, peaches, pineapple and cherry and hints of spice. Very clean and intense, the red wine is holding back the ageing so if you want to cellar this for 20 years plus that won’t be an issue.
We have to say, both the blanc and the rosé taste fantastic – little surprise considering the dominance of the black grape in both blends and the strength of Pinot Noir in 2008, which, with its 14% red wine content, is showcased particularly well in La Grande Dame Rosé 2008.
Demarville said, “The red wine means the champagne needs more time to open… we’re not expecting colour but looking for full bodied and smooth tannins with good potential for ageing.” The red wine comes from the famed Clos Colin, a mid-slope plot in Bouzy which is renown for producing highly concentrated fruit with good tannins.
Of final note are the new labels, which, with their big, bold lettering and brighter colours, perfectly befit these strikingly expressive champagnes. We were told that a focus on the wording of La Grande Dame and smaller Veuve Clicquot and vintage lettering was a marketing message – the brand is more important than the vintage!
Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame: Old Vintages
Alongside the new releases, Demarville shared with us some past vintages of La Grande Dame. Notably, despite it being a strong Pinot Noir year, there was no La Grande Dame vintage declared in 2002. Demarville believes this decision was likely made due to a combination of the wines having big sugars in 2002 and the abundance of stock in the cellars following the millennium boom. There will however, be a Cave Privée 2002, which Demarville tantalisingly told us he is “quite excited about”.
The La Grande Dame vintages we did taste were three very different years – 2004, 1989 and1979 – selected to showcase their diverse characteristics. Dominique said of each:
2004 – “A big harvest – very generous, great texture, creamy and fresh finish on the end… the slightly higher sugar balances the freshness.”
1989 – “A very hot vintage and is the epitome of La Grande Dame… long post-disgorgement ageing and 60% PN, this is one of the best vintages.”
1979 – “An inspirational year, the first time Pinot Noir was increased… this has depth, structure and lightness at the end. This what I am trying to replicate in 2008.”
|Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2004 | 18.5/20
61% PN, 39% CH | Lees Ageing: 13 Years | Disgorged: February 2018 | Dosage: 8 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year
Quite forward and generous with tropical fruits, lemon, apple, pineapple and mango. On the palate you get that rich mid-palate from the lees ageing and then some of the fruits like peaches, pineapple and really ripe apples. Great freshness on the palate. This 2004 seems to be having its moment. Fresh and really lifted on the end by salinity. A great example of how a later disgorgement (longer lees contact) makes the champagne even greater… though we have to remember they must be released some time!
|Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 1989 | 19/20
60% PN, 40% CH | Lees Ageing: 8 Years | Disgorged: May 1998 | Dosage: 8 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 21 Years
Very ripe and showing how graceful champagne can become. Some of that nutty character and creamy pastries and wow bundles of texture with the lees ageing seeming great with post-disgorgement age. Loads of lime comes forward with salinity and a nuttiness that lingers. Very good, I feel this is somewhere at its peak right now, no rush at all to drink but LGD 1989 is showing very elegantly and gives an indication of how LGD matures. A long lasting finish with nuts and lees going on, yet fresh and silky.
|Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 1979 | 19.5+/20
67% PN, 33% CH | Lees Ageing: 34 Years | Disgorged: May 2014 | Dosage: 4 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 5 Years
Great golden rich colour and has amazing nose with lavender, nuts and hints of coffee and lanolin. On the palate the ripe fruits come through with candied lemons, slightly spicy lychees and plenty of marmalade! Very big mouthfeel, very broad and structured with loads of fruit with pineapple and this goes on and on. This is the best LGD I have tasted; power, structure, lightness and freshness. Great length and has some of that lanolin and saline character that is really helping lift it up and keep it fresh.