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Veuve Clicquot Rosé and Grande Dame

by Tom Cannavan, 09/02

I was invited to a small tasting recently in the company of Jacques Peters, cellarmaster and oenologist for Veuve-Clicquot, to celebrate the release of the Veuve-Clicquot Rosé, vintage 1996. Alongside the wine was arranged a little vertical tasting of older vintages of the rosé, as well as the recently released 1995 "La Grande Dame", Veuve-Clicquot's super-deluxe flagship wine.
 

Veuve-Clicquot are perhaps unusual in making their rosé by blending a little still Pinot Noir wine with an ordinary "white" Champagne. Many houses make their rosé by an entirely different method, called "saignée", where black grapes are fermented on their skins for a short period to extract colour and flavour, before the juice is run off and fermentation continues as for a white wine. Veuve-Clicquot believe that the blending in of finished Pinot Noir wine adds more earthy, Pinot flavour to the wine, and a little welcome tannin. Although the rosé is made in relatively small quantities, and only in exceptional years, it is something of a house favourite within Veuve-Clicquot. All grapes used for this wine come from Premieres and Grands Cru vineyards.

Pinot Noir is of course one of the grapes permitted in Champagne, and the grapes for this cuvée come from the house's vineyards in the region, usually a Grand Cru vineyard in Bouzy. Interestingly, Jacques told me that they had recently discovered invoices from the last century for the purchase of quantities of Côte de Nuits Premier Cru wines from Burgundy. He assumes that at that time the red wine element of Veuve-Clicquot rosé was in fact red Burgundy.

Veuve-Clicquot Champagne Rosé Reserve 1970
Disgorged at least 20 years ago, though the coding was not clear enough to be precise. Beautifully rich salmon pink colour. Gentle stream of small bubbles. Lovely subtle yeastiness on the nose, with touches of nettle, berries and bruised apple. There's a soft, juicy raspberry quality on the palate, with a softly persistant mousse and a lovely richness and sweetness on the mid-palate. Long, lingering finish, and really peachy, soft quality. Delightful and excellent. 13% red wine in this blend.

Veuve-Clicquot Champagne Rosé Reserve 1985
This bottle was disgorged in November 1995, whereas the one below (same vintage) was disgorged only in April 2000. Very classic old Champagne nose, with lots of overripe pear and pear skin bouquet, nettles and a touch of tea-leaf. On the palate this is really quite savoury - even a touch lean - with crisp citrus acidity but then a lovely quality of raspberry fruit and a little meaty, tannic nip into the finish. Very good indeed. 14% red wine.

Veuve-Clicquot Champagne Rosé Reserve 1985
Much fresher nose - really quite a dramatic difference. Still that bruised pear skin quality, but a little caramel and a lovely sense of ripe, sweet fruit. The mousse is a little richer too, and there is a streak of rapier-like acidity, but this has slightly better balance in my opinion and I marginally prefer it overall. Good earthy fruit quality and very good indeed/excellent. 14% red wine.

Veuve-Clicquot Champagne Rosé Reserve 1988
Disgorged May 1996. A little more bronze than pink, the nose has lovely fruit and a gentle, baked cherry pie quality, even a little toasty note. The palate has a fine, rolling mousse and plenty of ripe, rich red fruit. In all, this is a concentrated, powerful wine with plenty of character. Excellent. 14.5% red wine.

Veuve-Clicquot Champagne Rosé Reserve 1990
From magnum. Disgorged May 1998. Strikingly fresh, herbal and zippy on the nose, with much more citrussy fruit and a little mineral hint. The palate is very rich and fruity, with a creamy mousse and lots of crunchy orchard fruit. There's a delightful ripe strawberry fruitiness about the mid-palate, then that powering thrust of citrus again. Very long indeed, and fine. Complex and excellent. 17% red wine.

Veuve-Clicquot Champagne Rosé Reserve 1996
Disgorged in January of this year, this is a brilliant salmon pink colour. It has a compact, brightly-focused fruit quality with some sweet, buttery, candied nuances and a hint of brioche. There's also a touch of mushroomy depth. Rich and round in the mouth, the mousse is full and persistant, and there is a weight of fruit that is very ripe, even hinting at being just off-dry in the finish. Very good indeed/excellent. 15% red wine.

Veuve-Clicquot Champagne La Grande Dame 1995
Jacques Peters says he believes this to be a great Grande Dame, and certainly the best since the 1988. Disgorged in July 2000, it is 62.5% Pinot Noir, 37.5% Chardonnay, and all grapes come from Grands Crus vineyards. This pale gold wine is tinged with emerald, and has an immediately complex nose of apple, lightly-bruised pear skins, yeast, herbs and nutty, almond notes. The mousse is rolling and mouth-filling, and the palate has a full, powerful flavour. There are notes of bacon fat, fig, peach and pear. Plenty of substance and complexity here. The finish is already long, with integrated, elegant acidity. One for the long haul and excellent.

Veuve-Clicquot Champagne Rich Reserve 1995
With a delightful brunch of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on toasted bagels, I enjoyed a glass of this aptly-named rich and off-dry vintage Champagne. Predominantly Pinot Noir, it has a pale bronze colour and fine, gently yeasty, pastry-case nose. It has good body with plenty of sweetness and fullness, and smooth, rich, nectarine and vanilla-dusted peach fruit. Delicious and not without complexity. Very good indeed/excellent.