2008 La Grande Dame: A Proud Pinot Noir

11/15/2018

 

Veuve Clicquot’s cellar master, Dominique Demarville, is honoring the label’s founder and namesake by breaking with tradition.

This season marks the release of the 2008 La Grande Dame, the first vintage produced entirely under Demarville’s leadership, and the first vintage since Veuve Clicquot’s celebrated 2006. For the 2008, Demarville has made two bold breaks with recent tradition. First, the blend will include a portion of wine aged in oak casks. According to a statement from Veuve Clicquot, this is the first time oak-aged wine has been included in a blend since the company switched over to all stainless steel ageing in the 1960s.

Bringing Back the Oak

Demarville explains his choice, saying in the statement, “When I arrived at Veuve Clicquot in 2006, I was impressed by the intense and powerful Vintage wines, all of them expressions of exceptional harvests. But I wondered, how can we go further and give our Vintages even more dimension?”

To find his path forward, Demarville looked to the past. “I remembered that one of my predecessors at Veuve Clicquot, Charles Delahaye, blended with oak aged wines until the 1960’s, when the House moved to using stainless steel,” he says. “The stainless steel allowed for greater clarity in the wine, but he always remembered the age of oak, and how it gave a certain roundness of flavor due to the micro-oxygenation of the juice in contact with another living, organic substance.”

The result of this return to oak is a richer, fuller wine, according to Demarville. “Thanks to the addition of just 5% of oak-aged wines into the 2008 assemblage, the wine has extra breadth and complexity—all without affecting the House style,” Demarville noted. “In the same manner that chefs in a kitchen will use a pinch of spice to season a dish, this small addition of oak aging creates the ‘spice effect’ that we are constantly looking for at Veuve Clicquot.”

Pinot Noir in the Spotlight

As bold as it was for Demarville to bring oak-aged wine back into the mix, the biggest surprise with the 2008 vintage comes from its blend ratios. Whereas most Champagnes include anywhere from 45% to 55% Pinot Noir grapes, the 2008 La Grande Dame is made up of 92% Pinot Noir. In a move the Robb Report called “a brave turn ... which would make many esteemed estates nervous—but which the pioneering widow would no doubt have applauded,” Demarville opted to put the darker grapes at the forefront of his first vintage release. 

Speaking to Decanter back in 2015, Demarville said of the darker blend, “It is a risk we take,” adding, “It’s not because we want to dramatically change the style of La Grande Dame, but because we want to play the game of the elegance of Pinot Noir.” 

Popular perception of Pinot Noir is that the wine is more structured, even heavy, “but that is not the case in Champagne,” said Demarville at the time. “Pinot Noir in Champagne has this beautiful capacity to get full-bodied, but also [to bring] elegance to the wines.”

Talking to Forbes this year, Demarville’s view on Pinot Noir’s graceful nature remains steady. “For La Grande Dame, my vision is to highlight the finesse and elegance that 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,” Demarville explained.

Ten Years in the Making

In many ways, 2008 was a great year, but the Champagne region had a particularly good season, Demarville explained to Forbes. The grapes benefitted from “a cool and rainy spring followed by a cool but dry summer [and] ripened in excellent conditions.” The amazing grapes from that growing season are now poised to create a great year for sales with the release of this groundbreaking vintage. 

 
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