La Grande Dame 2006, the Maison Veuve Clicquot jewel

by Chiara Giovoni 04/08/16
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La Grande Dame 2006, gioiello della Maison Veuve Clicquot

There is always something surprising about great wines. The fact that the cuvée de prestige La Grande Dame from Veuve Clicquot is a very great wine is something surprising for many. And yet La Grande Dame is, without a shadow of a doubt, first of all a great wine, something that may surprise those to connect the Veuve Clicquot brand more with marketing and mass consumption. The fact is, the ‘laws’ governing the production of La Grande Dame are very particular. After spending almost two days with the Maison Veuve Clicquot’s Chef de Caves Dominique Demarville, it became clear to me how difficult it is to communicate the intrinsic value of excellence when the perception of a brand is little focused on productive quality, which is not always the case with many entry-level Champagnes from other Maisons.

The story of Veuve Clicquot is so unique it is always worth recalling. When Francois Clicquot, who hailed from a family of bankers and textile merchants, decided in 1772 not to follow in his father footsteps in order to become a négoce de vin and export the effervescent Champagne wines of the young Barbe Nicole Ponsardin, who later became his wife, he could have no idea where that decision would lead. When she became a widow in 1805, rather than closing up her husband’s activities, Barbe Nicole took direct control of production and sales despite the difficult period in time created by the French Revolution and the rise and fall of Napoleon. In over 200 years of history, the identity of a Champagne with “only one quality, being the best” and based on Pinot Noir, in particular that of Bouzy, has been handed down through only ten chefs de cave. In 1816, after conquering markets in Scandinavia, England, Central Europe and Russia, the Veuve (Widow) Clicquot Ponsardin was give the title Grande Dame de la Champagne, a recognition that in 1972, the year of the Maison’s bicentennial, became the name for the Maison’sr Cuvée de Prestige, the first vintage being a 1962.

La Grande Dame is produced using grapes from only a few vineyards the Maison owns, some of which were acquired by Madame Clicquot herself, in the Grand Cru villages of Avize, Le Mesnil, Oger, Ambonnay, Ay, Bouzy and Verzy. Over the years, this Champagne has ceased to be limited to being a homage to the Veuve Clicquot and has become an example of audacity, a demonstration of savior-faire, tangible evidence of the greatness of a product that follows a truly unique path within Maison Veuve Clicquot production.

Only 18 vintages of this cuvée have been produced since 1972 and this because La Grande Dame exalts the Maison’s style with a ‘wine’ capable of revealing all its complexity through aging. Thus it can be made only when a harvest produces a wine with a great propensity to age. This means that the cuvée’s style is not just based on a refined elegance but also a strong structure which has well-defined traits and a complex and rich texture that evolves over time to create new emotions decades later.

The 2006 harvest came after a long and cold winter and a late spring with the vines budding at the end of June thanks to high temperatures. Cool weather came back in July and August but fine weather in September allowed for a classic September harvest with the Pinot Noir picked between September 12 and 29 and the Chardonnay producing a generous yield.

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