The Kraken awakes: Veuve Clicquot

The Chef and the Carousel

In Champagne, there’s been a bit of a ‘chef-de-cave’ merry-go-round during the last few years, a number of famous cellar masters retiring or moving on to pastures new.

Following the release of Veuve Clicquot’s prestige cuvée, La Grande Dame vintage 2008 last year, Dominique Demarville (right) unexpectedly announced that he was leaving Veuve Clicquot for the Laurent-Perrier group (where his remit also includes duties at Delamotte and Salon). Didier Mariotti replaced Dominique at Veuve Clicquot in August 2019, just as he did at Mumm thirteen years previously.

Demarville joined Clicquot in 2006, having spent the previous eight years turning around the somewhat tired Maison of Mumm. After a short period spent shadowing outgoing cellar master Jacques Peters, he took full charge of Veuve Clicquot in time for the 2008 harvest.

The wines at Veuve Clicquot have gained an extra level of quality under Dominique’s stewardship, once again tearing up the rulebook (as he did at Mumm), and introducing several innovations to inject some freshness into the brand. Gone were the excessive malolactic aromas that had previously marked many of Veuve Clicquot’s Champagnes, while vintage declaration has been reduced to just a few every decade (Only 2008, 2012, 2015, and 2018 have been declared so far). This has had the combined effect of ensuring that vintage Champagnes are bottled only in classic years, and that base and reserve wines for the non-vintage cuvées are of a high, average quality.

Back to Black – La Grande Dame 2008

Veuve Clicquot’s Champagnes have always been Pinot-dominated, yet Dominique felt that this dominance could be pushed further still, especially with the prestige cuvée ‘La Grande Dame’. Inspired by the wonderfully mature, Pinot Noir-dominated La Grande Dame 1979, and the fantastic quality of the 2008 harvest, Dominique threw caution to the wind to practice vinicultural hegemony: upping the portion of Pinot to a whopping 92%, with just 8% Chardonnay from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger (Dominique jokes that he was forced to include some Le Mesnil as it was the birthplace of former chef-de-cave Jacques Peters).

The temptation was there to make a Blanc de Noirs, but Dominique found that the wine was better balanced with a splash of Chardonnay “adding a bit of minerality.” Built around a base of more than 50% northern Montagne de Reims Pinot Noir to give the wine “freshness and length,” the remaining 41% of Pinot was taken from the villages of Ambonnay, Aÿ, and Bouzy to provide weight and structure.

(2020) The blend is 92% Pinor Noir from Ambonnay (4%), Aÿ (14%), Bouzy (23%), Verzy (37%), Verzenay (14%), and  8% of Chardonnay (Le Mesnil-sur-Oger).  The wines was disgorged January 2018, with a dosage of 6g/l. Biscuity aromas to the fore, with notes of almond and chocolate.  The palate has a firm line of acidity that gives way to stone fruits mid-palate, the aromas then turn full circle and closes down to a long, chalky minerality on the finish.  The long lees aging has enriched the wine with a complex, yeasty richness that feels immediate, but experience tells me to wait for the fruit to build.  Impeccably balanced, this will reward cellaring and should drink well from 2023-2040.

From Little Acorns – Brut Vintage 2012

For the 2008 vintage, Dominique vinified 5% of the wines in large barriques, using oak for the first time at Veuve Clicquot in almost 50 years. For the 2012 vintage, he doubled that to 10%. This is entirely sensible as new oak can dominate Champagne with its tannin and aroma, but once the barrels are re-used, the influence of the wood lessens and the aromas become more harmonious and finessed.

The wine is Pinot-dominated as usual, with 51% of the Pinot Noir assembled from a wide-range of crus across both the Montagne de Reims and the Vallée de la Marne. At 15%, the Pinot Meunier content is unusually high in this vintage, utilising exceptional vineyards in Ludes (Montage de Reims) and Dizy in the Vallée. The remainder is made up of various Chardonnays with a southern Côte des Blancs focus (Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, Vertus) that adds further amplitude to the already extrovert Pinots.

(2020) You don’t sense the 10% oak fermentation aromatically, although you do feel it in the creamy, textural finesse.  Zesty notes of grapefruit lead into lush, slightly tropical notes, a weighted Champagne without heaviness.  More broadly structured than 2008, with less angularity (certainly less toasty), the vintage 2012 is already showing the first flush of fruity generosity (and perhaps lacking a bit of complexity because of that).  Fine potential as one expects, yet eminently approachable, I suspect many will struggle to keep their hands off it (I know I will).  Enjoy from now until 2028.