Things to know about Veuve Clicquot
By Master of Wine, Christopher Burr
I have been involved with Champagne in one form or another for over sixty years!! One of the first wines I was allowed to taste (but had to spit out) was when I was seven, in the cellars of Champagne Lanson in Reims.
My father had met Victor Lanson during the war, after the Allies recaptured Paris. They became friends, then some fifteen years later we were on holiday in France and were invited to the Lanson cellars to taste the latest vintage before being blended. An exercise I discovered many years later, know as the Vins Claires tasting. Needless to say this experience started me on a lifetime wonderful voyage of discovery about fine wine, and of course the joys of Champagne.
My next adventure into Champagne was picking grapes as a schoolboy at Moet et Chandon in the summer of 1968. Then some years later in the mid 1980's I joined a wine merchant in London called Hedges and Butler, and was given a wonderful job as the marketing manager for Krug Champagne, as we were the UK agent.
I subsequently ran the distribution business for Burgundy House Joseph Drouhin and we added Champagne Ruinart to our portfolio. Then we merged our business in the early 1990's with Mentzendorff which was owned by Champagne Bollinger. So we had to reluctantly give up Ruinart, but had the joy of working with Champagne Bollinger.
In the meantime I got married and my wife worked for Veuve Clicquot, so we had the added pleasure of the occasional bottle and going to some of Clicquot's excellent events like the Business Woman of the Year, at Claridges.
We spent the second night of our honeymoon as guests of Moet at their wonderful Chateau de Saran. So, to say Champagne is in my blood is an understatement!
One thing that runs through all the great Champagnes that I have worked with is a dominance of the Pinot Noir grape in their blend.
Indeed Madame Clicquot, took over their Champagne House so successfully after her husband died prematurely in 1805, hence the Veuve or widow, once said later in 1825 - "our black grapes give the finest white wines".
Not only have Clicquot been great innovators, they were the first to make a vintage Champagne, everyone else made a non-vintage, they were the first to blend some red wine into the blend to make a rose.
Apart from the quality of their wines, more of which in a minute, they have also been great marketeers. The Yellow Label is iconic, memorable and was audacious and a shock to the Champagne World when it was first introduced in 1877.
Taking the audacity and innovatory theme from the widow, they also founded the Business Woman of the Year, more recently to be expanded and broadened to become The Bold Woman Award, reflecting the success and drive of women in every field.
What are the wines like?
Firstly, the famous Yellow Label Brut non-vintage. A classic blend of over 50% Pinot Noir, from 50-60 different vineyard holdings of mainly Premier and Grand Cru, and to give even more complexity up to 45% of the final blend uses more mature "reserve" wines.
This is a beautifully balanced wine with lovely fresh acidity balance by white peach and pear fruit, with a hint of zesty minerality and a round baked bread or even brioche character.
You can understand why this is so popular, it has real complexity and nice weight as well as being a fresh clean aperitif.
Vintage Clicquot Vintage is released a bit later, they are now selling the 2012 Brut, so nine years old, allowing the complexity from the selection of top wines in the vintage blend. Furthermore, a portion of the blend is aged in old oak barrels which adds another dimension, not oakiness with old barrels the vanillin is muted, but a touch of vanillin and the added complexity of an oxidatively raised wine.
The top cuvee, or Prestige cuvee is appropriately called after Madame Clicquot, La Grande Dame. First released for the exceptional 1966 vintage. This is an exceptional blend , again with Pinot Noir dominant, and very much the House style. The latest release is the 2012 vintage now nine years old, and as fresh and youthful, it can go on for many years properly stored. Wonderful wine.
Clicquot also make a Rose, a DemiSec a slightly sweeter wine, and they are one of the few Houses who still make a "Rich" which is basically sweet Champagne. Sweet Champagne was the favourite of the Tzars and the Russian Court, and also favoured by Queen Victoria, but is now sadly unfashionable. Try it with cheese or an apple pie like a Tart Tatin, you really can't understand why everyone wants to drink only dry these days.
I finish with another quote from Madame Clicquot when she said that "lobster salad and Champagne are the only things a woman should be seen eating". She did wonders for the image and love of great Champagne, it is wonderful to see her memory live on with such a delicious wine.
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