Monthly Archives: October 2015

A vertical tasting of Grande Dame champagne

LGD 2006

As if launching the 2006 Grande Damn white and rose champagne was not an event within itself, Veuve Clicquot marked the occasion with a vertical tasting hosted by the softly spoken yet passionately engaging chef du cave, Dominic Demarville. While acknowledging with respect and admiration the history and tradition of the Grande Dame to date, Dominic has Grande plans of his own for the development and evolution of this great brand.  This is clearly not a prestige cuvee that will be sitting on its laurels but one to watch with interest as his plans for stylistic development come to fruition.  Already a Pinot Noir dominated cuvee (typically 60:40 with Chardonnay) Dominic envisions increasing the Pinot Noir component further, a plan he has started gradually implementing with his inaugural 2008 vintage and will continue to develop.

The Grande Dame represents just 1% of the Veuve Clicquot production and is designed to be significantly different to the vintage Veuve. We were presented with two flights, one of white and one of rose selected from vintages boasting a similar fingerprint; the same residual sugar levels of 8g/l, similarly warm vintages and similar acidity levels.  This gave the eager audience a wonderful insight into the type of development that we can expect from the 2006.  The white flight was 2006, 1998, 1989 and 1976.  The wines were unique in their aromatic expressions but each boasted a mesmeric restraint combined with a concentrated, vibrant core and a fabulously long, intense finish.   The 2006 is the 17th white vintage produced since the prestige cuvee was first introduced in 1962.

Tasting the flight of 4 wines was like walking through a beautiful garden during four different seasons; the same achingly lovely landscape in four different guises.

2006 Grande Dame

A gorgeous nose of citrus and marzipan with a chalky, smoky minerality leading on to a concentrated baked lemon, chalk and subtle oatmeal palate which shows astounding concentration. The structure is like fine bone china, delicate yet strong with a lovely harmony between the acidity, the fine mousse and the fruit concentration.  Dosage is relatively low at 8g/l allowing the fruit to provide the palate weight.  The result is both seamless and enchanting despite its youth and though engaging now, promises plenty more excitement in the future.

1998 Grande Dame

A nutty savoury nose with aromas of dried apricot and honey draws you in to the subtle caramel notes on the palate which are perfectly offset by the salty minerality, bright citrus acidity and smoky notes. The bright fresh core gives the wine energy and vibrancy while the fabulous concentration of fruit penetrates long into the finish.

1989 Grande Dame

There is elegance and restraint on the nose which has enticing savoury smoky cashew notes. The palate is developing the generosity of age with delicious golden oatmeal biscuits, honey and baked lemon encased in a fine chalky minerality which provides fabulous structure and yet again, that signature bright acidity giving it poise.  There is a glorious poetic indulgence to this wine which will keep you returning to it again and again.

1976 Grande Dame

The mature nose has delicious savoury cheese rind notes and is both retrained and concentrated. The palate shows surprising youth and energy with a poised lemon freshness and chalky minerality along with the deliciously complex smoky spice and toffee nut.  The seriousness of the nose is juxtaposed by the laughing, dancing palate; it is an absolute joy to drink.

All of these vintages were warm and yet there is such energy and freshness about the wines that seems at odds with the ripeness, especially considering all the wines underwent full malolactic fermentation. Dominic believes that the concentration of the wines, as well as the mineral structure enhances the sensation of freshness, while using grapes from their more northern and therefore cooler vineyards and keeping the dosage at a moderate 8g/l is also a contributing factor.

Grande Dame Rose:

There have been only 10 vintages of Grande Dame rose since its inception in 1988 and we were to taste a flight of 2006, 2004, 1998 and 1989, the latter from magnum. The rose is made using 15% of red Pinot Noir from their 1.8ha Clos Colin vineyard.  There is a newly renovated winery dedicated just to the production of this wine which adds freshness and some tannin to the wine, important for its longevity.

2006 Grande Dame Rose

Unlike its white counterpart which, though young, was drinking beautifully, the rose felt incredibly young and tight with a shy nose betraying hints of the wild berry and hedgerow fruit buried deep in its core. The palate was pure and bright with a mineral rich palate displaying some peppery spice and savoury liquorice notes.  Though just a baby, it holds much promise for the future.

2004 Grande Dame Rose

A blockbuster wine from a blockbuster vintage. The nose has incredible concentration and power with a mesmerising combination of red fruits, black cherry, spice, liquorice and brioche richness.  It is seductive yet poised with phenomenal weight, complexity, concentration and freshness that just lasts and lasts. It lives up to everything that you would expect from the exceptional 2004 vintage.

1998 Grande Dame Rose

A lovely mature nose with savoury notes of mulch and quince leads on to a delicious creamy strawberry and cherry richness on the palate. Smooth and silky with a fine mousse which highlights the delicate seam of spicy minerality underpinning the ripe fruit and gentle brioche notes, and of course the trade mark freshness running through the wine and into the long effortless finish.

1989 Grande Dame Rose

Fabulous nose revealing complex layers of flavour from crystallised ginger and pink grapefruit to coffee bean and cocoa. The palate is beautiful, complex and incredibly vibrant; it is literally jumping for joy in your mouth. It is a wonderfully classy wine with fine, chalky minerality, ginger spice and a gloriously long toasty finish.  Absolutely fabulous and what a way to finish the tasting!

  • Alex


A Confession

When I started the MW course I had absolutely no idea what was in store for me. I knew it would take dedication, time management, determination and hard work and none of these prospects scared me; I have always applied myself to any challenge.  What I didn’t know was that as the course progressed it would reach insidiously into my very core, probing my deepest insecurities and challenging me in ways I have never before been challenged.

It has made me face failure for the first time, not once, but twice and like Damocles sword, the threat of failure again looms large on the horizon. For a perfectionist and a control freak failure doesn’t just mean that you have failed one aspect of a notoriously tough exam, it calls into question your self-worth.  It sounds melodramatic but to fail at the one thing you are ‘supposed to be good at’ is a very difficult mental hurdle to overcome.

My first failure was at my first attempt at the theory and practical exams. I had foregone ‘pleasure’ reading for 9 months and had been getting up at 5am to study every weekday.  I passed theory, but I failed 2 of the 3 practical exams.  I gained no joy in the theory pass, all I could see was the failure.  I persevered, re-enrolled and redoubled my efforts, but deep down I had stopped believing in myself.  When the results came through I had passed 2 of the 3 practical papers, an overall failure.  By this point my marriage had disintegrated into an acrimonious divorce and my father was battling cancer.  I had failed at my studies, I had failed at my marriage and I was worried that in my selfish MW cocoon I was failing as a daughter and a sister as well.

I took a year out and tried running away; I quit my job and moved to the sticks. That didn’t work.  Tormenting ghosts have a habit of following you.  I finally stopped running, both mentally and physically.  I finally began to see that the MW is not about passing or failing, it is about learning and growing.  I had got sucked into an MW bubble where nothing but passing matters and the fear and shame of failure came to dominate everything.  I had forgotten the reason I started this marathon in the first place which was to become a better, more knowledgeable wine professional.

With the help of incredible friends who have trodden the same path as me, albeit at a somewhat quicker pace, and an incredibly talented but more importantly, unbelievably patient mentor I am back in the game and studying to resit in 2016, but for the right reasons. I can now see there is no such thing as failure, I might never be able to put MW after my name, but I will become better at what I love in the process of trying.

This is my confession. My name is Alex.  I have failed. I might fail again.  But failure is subjective and in the end I will succeed.confession