by Chiara Giovoni
Extra Brut Extra Old is the multi-vintage cuvée from historic reserve wines marking the new Veuve Clicquot direction, which respects the values of innovation dear to Madame Ponsardin
Champagne destined to change the paradigm of the Maison
It was 1877 when Maison Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin presented the iconic garb that still unambiguously identifies its production today, the legendary Yellow Label: it did so for the English market, arriving in London with a cuvée that had a lower sugar dosage and could stand out from the classic Champagnes of the period, sweeter and with their traditional white labels. With the same pioneering spirit of conquest, last April the Maison presented a preview in London of a brand-new black label, as if to mark a new landmark stage in the production of its Ibubbly, albeit observing the formal codes of a sort of tradition.
The avant-garde spirit the Maison has had since its foundation in 1772 has never desired so fervently to bring that revolutionary approach that has been part of the brand from the start back into the spotlight. More than 200 years ago, Mme Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, the widow Clicquot, challenged a world forbidden to women to innovate and revolutionise it forever, introducing not only the first vintage and the first blended rosé to Champagne, but also inventing the ‘table de remuage’, forerunner of the pupitres for dis-gorgement that gave the world Champagne as we know it today. Madame Clicquot’s idea was to offer her customers the most perfect wine possible, so she ventured beyond the dogmas of the day, to go down in history as ‘La Grande Dame of Champagne’, a recognition of her entrepreneurial daring and her fidelity to the motto ‘one quality: the best’.
Dominique Demarville, chef de cave in charge of the Maison’s production since 2008, is a worthy heir to Madame Clicquot’s avant-garde vision; so much so that since his arrival he has bravely implemented some mini-major revolutions in production. For starters, the introduction of large oak barrels from Allier and Vosges for the separate vinification of the wines that are used for blending the Champagnes, beginning with the 2008 vintage, which is currently on the market. Dominique Demarville has also already revealed his desire to bind the Maison’s production, in particular the cuvée de prestige La Grande Dame, even more closely to the variety that symbolizes its Champagnes, that Pinot noir that Madame Clicquot loved in the Bouzy vineyards from the start.
Lastly, the chef de cave dedicated particular attention to the immense heritage of more than 400 vins de réserve stored in the cellars of the Maison, a surprisingly vast collection of more than 17 vintages starting with 1988 used primarily for making non-vintage Champagnes, to ensure that the celebrated Yellow Label maintains its identity of style and gustatory consistence founded on the elements of freshness and fruit that made it famous throughout the world.
Studying the inestimable wealth of nuances of the reserve wines the Maison has accumulated over the years, Dominique Demarville realized that he had a range of exceptional wines available to him, which have aged naturally on their fine lees respecting their terroir of origin and the character of the vintage of their harvest. This awareness has grown with time, and Demarville has come to the realisation that he wants to create ‘a tribute to the quintessence of Veuve Clicquot’.
From the idea to its accomplishment has taken a lot of courage and a great deal of study, to ‘assemble the best of history’ and follow the vision of Madame Clicquot, which has inspired the Champagnes of the Maison since 1789. It doesn’t happen very often that you encounter something truly different in Champagne: there are new vintages, prestigious cuvées, experimentation with new containers for fermentation (such as various types of wood or amphorae), cuvées from single vineyards or single-variety Champagnes, or different degrees of dosage, but it is rare to be faced with something really new. The Champagne we are usually familiar with is non-vintage or multi-vintage based primarily on the base wine of the year of production with a contribution of at most 50% of reserve wines, which allows the creation of a consistency of style in the production, independently of the variability of the harvests.
With Extra Brut Extra Old, though, Maison Veuve Clicquot has created an absolutely unprecedented Champagne, a multi-vintage cuvée assembled exclusively from reserve wines around thirty years old. Dominique Demarville has been working on this project with his team since 2011, with the idea of creating a ‘new Veuve Clicquot style’ beginning from a totally innovative assemblage, based on a selection of six reserve wines that are kept on their lees at 13°C in stainless steel in the cellars of the Maison, divided plot by plot and capable of being combined together to produce outstanding harmony between freshness and ripeness, between complexity and purity, and between intensity and silkiness.
Extra Brut Extra Old is a cuvée created from those wines that embody the style and the values of the Maison; not simply a new Champagne, but the emblem of an unparalleled wealth bestowed by the heritage of vins de réserve, which in the art of assemblage, perform the noble role of guarantors of the depth of the faceting and the identity of Yellow Label. After more than three years of ageing in the cellar on its lees, at the moment of dégorgement, the chef de cave finally took the decision to use extremely low dosage (Extra Brut), of only 3 grammes/litre, a dosage choice that was a consequence of the ‘extra old’ characteristic of the wines chosen for the assemblage, and not a whim of fashion. In this way, it was possible to valorize the particular character of the Champagne and exalt even more the elements of freshness, generosity and structure that are amplified in all their elegance also by the creaminess of the effervescence, with a very fine perlage owing to the pressure of only 4.5 atmospheres, as opposed to the six bar traditionally used.
On the occasion of the official presentation in London, guided by Dominique Demarville along an itinerary that traversed three decades of the production of Maison Veuve Clicquot, we had the privilege of recreating the combination of the first edition of Champagne Extra Brut Extra Old by tasting the six extraordinary vintages of old vins de réserve 1988, 1996, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010, which constitute the final assemblage that envisages 47% Pinot noir, 27% Chardonnay and 26% Meunier, bottled in November 2013 and disgorged in June 2017. According to the chef de cave, three years of ageing are sufficient for the Champagne in the bottle, as the reserve wines are conserved on their lees, and so the wines undergo a kind of double-ageing (which explains the origin of the term Extra Old).
A heritage of over 400 vins de réserve is kept in the cellars
2010 The Meunier comes from Ville-Dom-mange: fresh Champagne with notes of lemon, crisp peach and tangerine; precise wine with mature acidity and impressive fullness.
2009 Pinot noir from Aÿ: austere, insightful and vinous with imposing scenic presence, rich and opulent, but full of muscular precision and finesse, great savouriness and persistence.
2008 Chardonnay from Villers-Marmery: brilliant in its notes of freshly-cut pineapple, grapefruit and lime, with a decisive iodine and mineral edge that enjoys wonderful dynamic extension; this is Chardonnay in all its shining splendour.
2006 Pinot noir from Verzy: spiciness and exuberant joy, but with grace and vibrant tension, with dashing fruity and vinous notes, marvellously broad but always crystalline, taut and saline with great creaminess.
1996 Pinot noir from Loches-sur-Ource: incredible potency and expressiveness, with spicy notes of ginger, apple juice and cream of tangerine, and surprising savouriness, precision and depth; closely-wo-ven, it is incredibly dense and taut with overwhelming persistence. A perfect example of the potential in great reserve wines.
1988 Chardonnay from Cramant: the Grand cru soul is expressed as it is in a great Meursault, in the notes that make up its seductive profile, rich in toasted dried fruit, butter and vanilla, short-crust pastry and candied citrus fruits. It is a watershed for this wine, in which, like when cooking with spices, changing the proportions by even just a small quantity can completely change the character of the final assemblage.
Extra Brut Extra Old is the Champagne that is destined to change the paradigm of Veuve Clicquot, as it is a conscious taking stock of the tremendous treasure that is guarded in its cellars, and of the enormous savoir-faire that lies at the foundation of its production: it is a masterpiece by Dominique Demarville, a masterpiece of gustatory precision, sophis-ticated florality and aromatic elegance, with that mineral energy that lacks nothing of the distinctive toasted nuances floating above the fruit, the unmistakable, distinguishing signature of Maison Veuve Clicquot.