Champagne deconstructed by Veuve Clicquot

A Thrilling Champagne Tasting

Recently I received an invitation from Veuve Clicquot Champagne to ‘a unique wine experience with Yellow Label N.V.’.

I have to admit my reaction was mixed. At first glance this didn’t really excite me, but it was somewhat mysterious –  I kept wondering how unique an experience can you get from non vintage Champagne? Being somewhat cynical I presumed they were indulging in some marketing hyperbole.

Luckily curiosity got the better of me and I popped along – I am so glad I did as this was a unique and truly memorable tasting.

Which is remarkable when you consider that there were only six wines to taste and they were all Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut Non Vintage – except they weren’t, not really.

All six were served from magnum and had been disgorged on the same day in February 2010. In addition, in order to really allow the differences to show they had received a low dosage of 4 grams per litre – Yellow Label is normally 9 g/L or so. This lack of sugar could officially make these Champagnes Extra Brut.

What made the tasting so wonderful was that they essentially deconstructed non vintage Champagne. We are always told that the non vintage concept is a way of averaging out the vintages. In order to make great wine in this ungenerous, northerly climate, they keep back wine from the ripe years to blend with the leaner ones. So, the theory goes it is the blend that matters, each marque producing a house style that is reproduced year in year out.

Not on the showing of this tasting they don’t. Actually each release of a non vintage Champagne  is based in large part on wines  from a single year and they use the reserve wines in a relatively limited way. I tried six different examples of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut Non Vintage, the wine based on the 2007 vintage, not be released until 2012 and the current offering based on the 2006 vintage.

This was followed by some older wines; the blend based on the 2004 vintage and the one based on the 2001 vintage, before moving onto a pair that were genuinely mature; the Yellow Label Brut Non Vintage based on the 1990 vintage and for a finale the oldest Non Vintage wine they possess, the cuvée based on the 1953 vintage.

Dominique Demarville

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In Praise of Larger Bottles

Champagne vineyards in the Marne valley

The other day I really had to pinch myself. I was sure that I was dreaming, but no I really did have the opportunity to taste four different vintages of Champagne Perrier Jouët’s Belle Époque – what is more they were from jeroboams, equivalent to 4 bottles each. Continue reading

Rosé – skin contact or blending?

In the UK wine world we are taught, as a fact, that the only decent rosé wines are made by skin contact – extracting a dash of colour from the skins of black/purple grapes, just as you do a red. Champagne that is made pink by the addition of still Pinot Noir, we are told, is an exotic exception. Continue reading

A Great Champagne Domaine

I sometimes think that it is a good job that I don’t have any money, because if I did I would spend rather a lot of it on Champagne. I love Champagne and cannot think of any occasion that wouldn’t be improved by a glass or two of the stuff.

Recently I was able to taste a couple of Champagnes made by a single domaine, or grower – it is always such a pleasure to speak to growers who make their own wines. To see the passion and belief behind their eyes is so refreshing and exciting. Continue reading

Philipponnat Clos des Goisses – an update

Some of you may remember that late last year I tasted through the range from Champagne Philipponnat with Charles Philipponnat. I was hugely impressed and enjoyed it very much, but sadly their top wine, the Clos des Goisses, was out of condition.

Well, yesterday I was able to try it again and to renew my acquaintance with this great single vineyard chamapagne.

I could tell you all about the vineyard, but let’s hear from Charles himself

Philipponnat Clos des Goisses 1999

The pinnacle of the Philipponnat range, this is a single vineyard wine from the 5.5 hectare Clos des Goisses in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ (click here to see a map), which Pierre Philipponnat purchased in 1935.

The vineyard is very steep and faces due South giving excellent exposure, allowing for very ripe grapes to be produced. So favourable are the conditions that they can make a vintage wine from this vineyard in every harvest.

According to the back label the blend was 65% Pinot Noir together with 35% Chardonnay, although other sources say 70% and 30%.

30% is barrel fermented for complexity.

Dosage is just 4.5 grams per litre.

Disgorged in March 2007.

My tasting note:

Pale gold with lemon tints, very bright (even in bad light).

The nose was yeasty and flakey pastry and brioche-like with notes of ozone and an intense minerality.

The palate was above all elegant and poised with a tight mineral structure and a feel of finesse to it. The wine was currently quite tight with just a delicate richness promising what will come with some more bottle age, right now it is about the minerality and a certain salty twang together with a little touch of oak spice just shimmering in the background.

The palate was very dry, the dosage is low, with a lovely rich textured mouth-feel showing how ripe the fruit was from this superb site and excellent year. This texture follows through on to the long, long finish together with buttery and nutty flourishes.

I really liked this champagne, it is complex and interesting and fine with the character of a great wine rather than a sparkling wine – I felt that it really needed to accompany a meal in order to really show its worth and I kept getting visions of grilled dover sole while I was trying it – 95 points.

More information is available on the Champagne Philipponnat website.

Stockist information is available from Champagne Philipponnat’s UK agent: Les Caves de Pyrene

Domaine Carneros – haven of calm and elegance

Whilst in the Napa Valley I was fortunate enough to be invited to visit Domaine Carneros. This is a dramatic and beautiful winery surrounded by vines and perched on a hill overlooking the rolling Carneros countryside.

It was created in 1987 as a partnership between US wine company Kobrand and Champagne Taittinger. Indeed Claude Taittinger had been looking for a suitable site for a Californian sparkling wine vineyard since the 1970s. Continue reading

Philipponnat – a fine Champagne house

Charles Philipponnat was in town the other day and I could not resist the opportunity to try some of his Champagnes.

The Philipponnat family have been growing grapes and making wines in Champagne since 1522. They were originally based in in Aÿ, but Auguste and Pierre Philipponnat moved to nearby Mareuil-sur-Aÿ in 1910, where the Philipponnat Champagne house is still based in the beautiful Château de Mareuil.

Philipponnat has long been a favourite producer of mine, indeed I used to sell their Champagnes when I was a wine merchant, but most of the time I seldom get the chance to try them.

I was delighted therefore that Charles presented a range of six of his cuvées – the bulk of his range. This gave me true insight into the Philipponnat style and demonstrated what elegant and un-showy wines they are. Continue reading