Dominic Demarville, Chef de Cave of Veuve Clicquot since 2006, presented a magnificent tasting of the Yellow Label at the Institute of Contemporary Arts on 8th March 2011. The event focussed on the issue of consistency, one of the most important facets of non-vintage champagne when it comes to the style of the house, consumer preferences and competition among the Champenois.
The wines tasted at the event were all poured from magnum bottles, disgorged at the same time: in the late autumn of 2010; and a low level of dosage was added at 4 grams per litre as opposed to the usual 9 – 11. This made comparison easier for the tasters.
Dominic explained that the objective for makers of non-vintage champagne was consistency across vintages no matter what the conditions had been like in the given year. This entails that champagne houses cannot excel above a certain quality in any year, because that would lead to compromising on the quality of lesser vintages due to the lack of high quality reserve wines. It is a delicate balance one needs to strike.
To achieve consistency, Dominic and his team re-taste each and every lot a number of times over the year so as to see how the wines develop and what they taste like in order to understand what they bring to the blend. These tastings are normally in October-December and June. Currently, the stock of reserve wines goes back to 1988 and they are kept still in tanks or concrete vats, aged on lees. These reserves wines are kept separately by the year, variety and cru. The pre-blending is done in February, followed by the selection of the final blend. Once the final blended is selected, the assemblage is done in quantities of 8,000 hl that is 1 million bottles. When the Yellow Label has been created for a given release, 500 Magnums and 1,000 750ml-size bottles are kept in the wine-library, which helps the team to monitor how the blends develop and mature over the years.
The dosage changed drastically over the years, as evidenced by the 1840s bottle found in a shipwreck in the Baltic, which had some 150 grams per litre. This was the standard quantity and it was the British market that demanded extra brut, which led to the creation of the Yellow Label in 1876.
The wines tasted were all different releases of Yellow Label that is the no-vintage range. Therefore, the indication of the vintage in the notes should be understood as the release of the given year, which will contain wine from the vintage indicated and from the reserve wines too.
First pair: 2007 and 2006. 2007 was a difficult year with rain and botrytis, whilst 2006 was a rich and sunny year with good ripeness. The first one needs more time, whilst the second one is a more approachable vintage. The reserve wines were 29% and 28% respectively. For the 2007 release reserves were used from the 2006 and 1990 vintages too, whilst for the 2006 they came from 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001 and 2000. The 2006 release did not include older reserve wines, because it was a year not lacking complexity, richness and ripeness.
Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label 2007
52% Pinot Noir, 19% Pinot Meunier, 29% Chardonnay
Light lemon core, watery rim and fine persistent mousse. Medium intense lovely fresh brioche, dough and ripe apples, lemon zest. Dry with piercing acidity, tight body, persistent mousse with medium finesse. A very good definition, sharpness of fruit aromas: apples and citrus fruits with doughy texture from the mid-palate onwards. Medium finish. 16.4
Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label 2006
55% Pinot Noir, 18% Pinot Meunier, 27% Chardonnay
Lemon with very light golden hue in the core and watery rim. Fine persistent mousse. Restrained, but complex aromatics. Fruits: ripe apples and pears with understated, but concentrated autolytic characters of brioche and yeast. Dry, very fresh, complex ripe fruits, long gentle mousse, doughy tones and silky, soft finesse, long finish. 16.7
Second pair: 2004 and 2001. The 2004 vintage was more concentrated than 2001 and sharper in character, whilst 2001 was less intense, softer and gentler. 2004 was clearly a vintage year in Champagne. The question when creating vintage champagne though is whether to do that or keep it as high quality reserve wine. At Veuve Clicquot this decision is made with their ultimate priority in mind: consistency across the years. The excellence of a vintage is expressed in La Grand Dame and the Vintage releases. In 2004 22% reserve wines were used from the 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000 and 1999 vintages. In 2001 it was 27% and they were from 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997 and 1996. 2001 saw lots of rain from mid-September, hence there was the need for older reserves wines to balance a more dilute vintage.
Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label 2004
52.5% Pinot Noir, 19% Pinot Meunier, 28.5% Chardonnay
Light lemon with a touch of golden core, generous watery rim. Medium bubbles, less persistent than 2006 or 2001. Medium intense nose with ripe and spicy nose: apples, brioche, cinnamon and cardamom. Dry, racing acids, tight, lean, very measured, freshness of fruits. Mousse is very soft, subtle brioche, creamy and strawberry aftermath. 16.6
Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label 2001
Pronounced lemon, light gold core, watery rim. Persistent fine bubbles. Quite intense nose, fleshy fruity tones of apples, pears, subtle spices and yeast. Dry, very fresh, understated aromatics, almost mineral mid-palate as if a bit dilute, low intensity and every so slightly shorter on the finish. 16.4
Third pair: 1990 and a surprise…….. For the 1990 the reserve wines used were 1989, 1988 and 1987. The latter reserve wine was used to counterbalance the ripeness and greatness of the 1989 and 1988 vintages. These details were not given for the 1953 vintage, where 33% reserve wines were used.
Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label 1990
Light golden with a straw affection. Highly intense nose, concentrated, ripe and mature. Bruised apples, cabbage, turnip, lemon zest and cloves. Dry, very fresh, extremely well-defined, brilliant radiance, gentle mousse, savoury and elegant. Touch of brioche at the end, medium finish. 16.9
Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label 1953
Golden, straw rim. Highly intense, honeyed nose with cabbage, mushrooms and straw, bruised apples, vanilla. Dry, fresh, ripe and aged, tightly packed fruits with vegetal savoury notes of cabbage and seaweed. Honeysuckle embracing it. Very long, elegant, balance of freshness and fruits. Long. 17.6