The Champagne house Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin has had a long and fascinating history. Founded in 1772 by Philippe Clicquot, it began primarily as a banking and textile company that only dabbled in the Champagne trade. When Philippe’s son, Francois, became head of the company, focus switched more to Champagne. In 1805 Francois Clicquot passed away, leaving his young widow, Nicole-Barbe Clicquot Ponsardin, to take the reins. Not only did Veuve (Widow) Nicole-Barbe run the company with great skill, she turned the house into one of the most famous and prestigious grande marques ever. Nicole-Barbe also transformed the way Champagne was made when she created the first riddling table, enabling the production of crystal clear wines. Veuve Clicquot also produced the very first vintage Champagne in 1810.
I’ve been intrigued with the story of Veuve ever since reading Tilar J. Mazzeo’s book, The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It, and I have enjoyed Veuve Champagne for some time, so I was thrilled when I got the opportunity to have a one-on-one tasting with Veuve’s current winemaker, Dominique Demarville.
Dominique Demarville, Cellar Master
Dominique Demarville became the 10th Cellar Master of Veuve Clicquot on June 1st 2009 after being Deputy Cellar Master since 2006. He began his career in wine 26 years ago when he harvested grapes in Champagne as a summer job. He realized his passion for wine that summer, leading him to earn a technical degree in oenology and viticulture at Lycée Viticole de la Champagne, and a degree in oenology at the University of Burgundy. He worked in several French wine regions before finally settling in Champagne, where he worked at several different Champagne houses before taking a position at Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. He’s a very charming and personable man, with sharp blue eyes and incredible passion for his work. Once I got over my initial feeling of giddiness after meeting M. Demarville, I was able to concentrate as he lead me through a tasting of 5 remarkable Veuve Clicquot Champagnes.
Typical of Veuve Clicquot wines, Pinot Noir is dominant. The blend is 50 to 55% Pinot Noir, 28 to 35% Chardonnay, and 15 to 20% Pinot Meunier. Between 25 and 40% of the wine is made up of reserve wines, which help to maintain consistency of the house style. The winemakers have 17 years of reserve wines to draw on when creating the blend, the oldest being from 1988. The over 400 different reserve wines are not yet blended and are stored by cru and by grape variety. These still wines remain on their lees to help prevent oxidation, and M. Demarville stated that it is the reserve wines that contribute the distinctive brioche flavour to the final blend.
Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label has a golden yellow colour with aromas of ripe apples, peaches, quince, and white blossoms. The mousse is creamy and persistent, and the palate shows flavours of brioche, vanilla, crisp citrus, yellow fruit, and a toasty finish. Pair with lobster risotto or mushroom quiche. (LCBO $66.25)
The blend is very similar to the Brut Yellow Label with 50 to 55% Pinot Noir, 28 to 33% Chardonnay, and 15 to 20% Pinot Meunier, and again 20 to 35% is reserve wines. The difference is the addition of about 12% still red wine, which is a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, giving a pretty pink colour and berry flavours.
The Rosé Non Vintage is a light pink colour with aromas of wild red berry, cherry pie, toast, and brioche. Powerful, yet elegant, this wine is creamy and concentrated, ending with a long delicious finish. Pair this wine with with shellfish, caviar, or smoked salmon.
Made only in exceptional years, M. Demarville says the vintage wines “must show the gift of nature.” The Vintage 2002 is comprised of 60% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, and 7% Pinot Meunier. The grapes come from 17 vineyards, all of which are classified as either Grands Crus or Premier Crus. This wine was disgorged in 2009 after having spent 6 years on the lees.
A sparkling pale yellow colour, intensely aromatic and concentrated, this wine exhibits citrus and mandarine aromas, with a very floral character. A lively and generous mousse with brioche, creamy vanilla, minerals, spice, and crisp citrus flavours, and a long toasty finish. A stunning wine. Pair with stewed rabbit or a mild vegetable curry. (LCBO Vintages, $88.95)
The Vintage Rosé 2004 is a blend of 62% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, and 8% Pinot Meunier. There is also an addition of 15% still red Pinot Noir from Bouzy vineyards. The blend is made up of approximately 20 Grands and Premier Crus vineyards. It was aged 5 years on the lees and was disgorged in 2010. The 2004 vintage is lighter and leaner than 2002, but has excellent aging potential. M. Demarville suggests it could age at least 20 years.
A coppery pink colour with pronounced ripe red fruit, floral, and pastry aromas. There is a zesty acidity and a very long length. Juicy and delicious. Pair with roasted turkey or beef carpaccio. (LCBO Vintages, $94.95)
This is a more “traditional” Champagne as it is sweeter in style (it wasn’t until relatively recently that the trend has moved towards drier versions). Pinot Noir is again dominant at 40 to 45% of the blend, lending structure and power to the wine. A higher percentage of Pinot Meunier than other Veuve Champagnes (30 to 35%) gives exotic fruit and floral notes. Chardonnay makes up 20 to 25%, contributing freshness and delicacy. About 20 to 30% reserve wine is added and the final wine has 45 g/l of sugar.
This wine has rich notes of honey, brioche, toast, and sweet yellow stone fruit, with a round and luxurious texture. The crisp burst of acidity nicely balances the higher sugar levels in this wine. Great to pair with desserts at the end of your holiday meal. Try it with Panna Cotta, dried fruit with a custard sauce, or chocolate covered strawberries. (LCBO, $69.55)