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!