2015 Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Rosé: A Toast to Optimism in Every Hue

By | 1 June 2024

The 24th release of the signature rosé from the house is described as “calm, composed, and fundamentally at ease with itself.”

By Simon Field MW

Simon Field MW is notably impressed by Veuve Clicquot chef de caves Didier Mariotti and the most recent vintage of La Grande Dame Rosé.

Madame Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin is known for her pioneering spirit, business acumen, and winemaking excellence, although it is challenging to separate the myths from the truth. The debate on whether she invented the riddling process at her kitchen table remains speculative. More importantly, her affinity for the Pinot Noir grape and the development of what is now celebrated as rosé Champagne, with the 2015 La Grande Dame Rosé being a noteworthy example, stands as a testament to her influence.

The blending of red and white wine, a concept often disregarded by regulatory bodies, captured the attention of Madame in 1818, particularly since she had separately cultivated a 1.3ha plot in Bouzy named Clos Colin, which was perfect for producing an excellent red wine for assemblage. Advanced geological studies later confirmed Nicole’s instinctive understanding that this area’s soil, significantly thicker in topsoil and deeper in chalk compared to other regions, along with an optimal microclimate, is superb for crafting red wine intended for blending. The current chef de cave at Clicquot, Didier Mariotti, who is both an agronomist and an oenologist, is notably intrigued by this. He fondly recalls one of Madame’s cryptic phrases — “I taste rosé with my eyes”—suggesting multiple interpretations if one allows imaginative associations. For her, the notion of mixing red with white wine made more sense than coloring white wine with elderberries and black grapes, a sentiment with which we also agree.

In 1972, the launch of the 1962 Grande Dame Brut celebrated the winery’s bicentenary; its latest 2015 release signifies its 24th edition (see WFW Issue 80, pp.80–81). The rosé iteration has been in production since 1989, each edition accompanying the brut’s release. According to Didier, “La Grande Dame first and foremost, then, rosé.” These two versions embody the dual aspects of the brand’s identity. The focus is on a blend of intellectual subtlety and understated strength, particularly distinguishing it from the Vintage cuvée, which is typically selected for food pairings. Unlike the Vintage which generally contains only 65% Pinot Noir, La Grande Dame has shifted to entail 90% of this variety, which some argue is a return to traditional blending ratios, similar to four decades ago when then chef de cave Jacques Péters, a native of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, veered towards a preference for southern Chardonnay. In 2008, Didier’s predecessor Dominique Demarville commenced the transition back to a predominantly Pinot Noir blend, arguably in deference to Madame Clicquot’s presumed desires. “Our black grapes provide the finest white wines,” another renowned statement from her.

The 2015 variant contains 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay, mostly sourced from the grand cru villages of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and Avize. This Pinot Noir dominance cueing towards a stylistically discreet, intellectual wine elicits a practical approach in the blend. For the 2015 release, the predominance of grapes came from the northern villages of Verzy and Verzenay, complemented with grapes from warmer regions like Aÿ, Bouzy, and Ambonnay. The blend aims to cultivate a wine profile that is delicate, precise, and lively. Despite its robust qualities, Didier dares to describe La Grande Dame as “fragile”. To demonstrate this, he suggests tasting the wine from two different glass shapes—one bowl-like, the other more flute-like. The former emphasizes the wine’s robust and immediate characteristics, while the latter reveals subtler, more nuanced notes, describing it as a vin de contemplation. Didier passionately recounts the tasting experience as akin to relaxing on a Chesterfield sofa, enjoying the nuanced flavors of crushed strawberries with a hint of spice and pepper. The wines’ poised and serene demeanor regardless of their youth, and their engaging storytelling, indeed makes a compelling case for both personal preference and promotional prowess in depicting what the two glass presentations offer.

The year 2015 was notably warm, with periods of drought and an early onset of harvesting, akin to the climatic conditions of 1976 and the recent 2022, though not as extreme as the drought-affected 2003. Harvesting commenced six days earlier in 2022 compared to 2015, with both years beginning in August, greatly influencing the phenolic structure and acidity due to the longer daylight and warmer weather. The increase in pH levels from 3.05 in 2015 to 3.50 over the last four years, though rain-interrupted in 2021, indicates potential balance and integrity in structure, regardless of the high temperatures in 2015. Notably, some have revised their opinion unfavorably towards the 2015 vintage due to unusual vegetal aromas and an unsatisfactory finish, but counterparts like Grandes Dames have retained acclaim, celebrated for its distinctive noble bitterness. However, with the ongoing climatic shifts, the sustainability of offsetting tactics such as earlier harvesting remains a topic for future discussion.

Today, the experience is exceptional. In the company of Didier and an array of distinct glass selections, I initially tasted these champagnes on their own. Further exploration continued at The Pem, located near St James’s Park in London, where Chef Sally Abé creatively paired the champagne with an intricate vegetarian menu as part of Veuve Clicquot’s “Garden Gastronomy” initiative. Remarkably, the wine aligned beautifully with dishes like beetroot and blood-orange jelly, which are typically challenging to pair with La Grande Dame. Didier’s aim was to capture the essence and dynamic flavors of both the brut and the rosé, impressing the dinner guests with his dedication. At no point did La Grande Dame falter in its gastronomic prowess, contrary to some beliefs.

This sentiment echoes the ethos of Madame Clicquot, who famously valued supreme quality, a philosophy similarly revered by Winston Churchill later on with regards to Pol Roger. Didier shared that La Grande Dame constitutes less than 2% of Veuve Clicquot’s production, with the rosé representing 20% of that figure. The blend includes 13% of red wine from the fully utilized 1.3ha of Clos Colin vineyard. The journey from Nicole Ponsardin’s humble beginnings to the big brand today is monumental, yet her legacy distinctly resonates through each bottle of La Grande Dame. This year, the theme “Optimism through color” vividly encapsulates this legacy, with Italian ceramicist Paola Paronetto designing special gift packages, marking another milestone in this historic champagne’s journey.

Dinners at The Pem, London, on March 27, 2024, and with Didier Mariotti at Le Café Royal on March 28, 2022, underscored these refined expressions.

2015 Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Rosé
(90% Pinot Noir [13% added as red wine], 10% Chardonnay; disgorged July 2023;
dosage 6g/l)

The hue exhibits a rich copper akin to aged Keble brick, yet retains a bright sheen. The aroma presents as mature and contemplative, offering a subdued welcome. It reveals layers of lavender and black tea underneath a base of crushed wild strawberry, paired with notes of chalk and tilleul, with subtle touches of tapenade. The palette is also greeted with crushed pepper, mandarin, cinnamon, and splinters of cedarwood. Some in the tasting group note hints of peppermint and Parma violet. The wine’s ingenious flair is evident, enhanced by a structural rigor that promises aging potential; a firm finish underscored by what Didier describes as “noble bitterness,” which encapsulates the overall composition without remorse. | 95

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