WHEN it comes to Champagne, it’s all about the base – the base wines that go into creating France’s signature fizz.
Each Champagne house or producer will normally create a non-vintage blend, mixing wines from different vintages or years to create a house style that can be reproduced bottle after bottle.
In exceptional years, Champagne houses will also produce a vintage wine, with the year stamped on the label.
When it comes to producing the house blend, the cellar master – or “chef du cave” in French, which sounds so much more romantic – can draw on wines from the current vintage or on reserve wines from previous years.
And Dominique Demarville, the chef du cave at Veuve Clicquot, has around 400 of those reserves wines from which to choose, sitting ready in stainless steel or concrete tanks.
Demarville brought samples of six of those reserves wines along with him to The Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire for the Scottish launch of Extra Brut Extra Old (EBEO), the latest cuvee or blend from Veuve Clicquot.
Hot on the heels of unveiling the wine in London – and ahead of a tour that would take him to Bristol and Birmingham before heading back to France and then on to Italy, Asia, Australia and Switzerland, with the wine reaching the United States next year – Demarville explained that he wanted EBEO to be extracted from the style of the house’s flagship blend, Yellow Label or “Carte Jaune” – again, sounds so much better in French.
It was fascinating to try the six reserve wines, from the 2010 Pinot Meunier from the premier cru village of Ville-Dommange that was full of peach, lemon and white flower aromas and a 2009 Pinot Noir from the grand cru at Ay with its fresh strawberry and red cherry fruit through to a 2008 Chardonnay from the premier cru at Villers-Marmery with softer acidity and creamier butteriness beginning to show and grand cru Verzy’s 2006 Pinot Noir, which brought in a flinty smoke alongside pear and baked apples.
The stand-outs base wines – unsurprisingly – were two older examples: a 1996 Pinot Noir from premier cru Loch Sur Ource that had such intense peach aromas that it was bordering on pineapple and a 1998 Chardonnay from grand cru Cramant that was advancing into yogurt territory thanks to its creaminess, with smoky aromas that Demarville likened to riesling during the tasting.
Sharing samples of the reserve wines culminated in the introduction of EBEO.
Demarville joined Veuve Clicquot in 2006 and took over as chef du cave in 2009; he began laying the groundwork for his new cuvee just two years later.
The maiden EBEO was blended in 2013, using all six of the reserve wines on show at Gleneagles.
Further blends from 2014 and 2015 are already slumbering in the cellar, with plans to release an EBEO at least every two years.
Veuve Clicquot’s house style revolves around Pinot Noir and leaving the wines to age in tanks on their fine lees – the dead yeast cells from the fermentation that turns grape sugars into alcohol – which gives the Champagne its tell-tale creaminess.
Demarville points out that he doesn’t stir the lees though – he thinks that would bring too much oxygen into the wine.
While the Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Non-Vintage Brut (£40) has fresh green apples, pears and wholemeal toast on the nose, leading onto red apple, peach and lemon on the tongue, its new sibling kicks the creaminess up a notch or two.
The Veuve Clicquot Extra Brut Extra Old (£69) gives a richer feeling in the mouth, with flavours of doughy white bread rolls and a peachy finish, following on from the apricots, cream and a whiff of smoke on the nose.
The EBEO came into its own when served with food, with its fresh acidity cutting through the fat of belly pork and the batter around a tempura prawn – there’s that classic Champagne and fish n’ chips combination at work again.
About 52% of the wine in the current bottling of Yellow Label comes from 2013, with just under 3% from 1999 wines and the remainder from wines aged for between one and ten years.
By way of comparison, EBEO is composed of 92-95% wines that are between four and ten years old, with the remaining 3-5% older than ten years, along with a 2% drop of the 1996 reserve wine and a 1% splash of the 1988.
The other difference is in the sweetness; the Yellow Label is “brut”, with 9-10 grams of sugar per litre, while the EBEO is – as the name suggests – “extra brut”, with just 3g/l.
That extra dryness is balanced though by the creamy mouth-feel and the intensity of the fruit.