In contrast to Veuve Clicquot’s recent launches of sweeter Champagnes under the Rich label, the famous house has introduced its first ever ‘official’ low-dosage cuvée.
Called Extra Brut Extra Old, the new Champagne – which was launched in London yesterday by cellar master Dominique Demarville – comes with a dosage of 3 g/l, placing the blend in the Extra Brut category, which is used for Champagne with 6g/l of sugar or lower.
Although Veuve Clicquot already sells low-dosage Champagnes with its Cave Privée label, used for small quantities of very old vintage fizz from its cellars that are normally released with 4-6g/l of residual sugar, this week’s launch is the first cuvée from the house that is classified as ‘extra brut’.
“Except for Cave Privée, this is the first extra brut we have made; officially this is the first Champagne of Veuve Clicquot to show this level of sugar,” said Demarville at the launch yesterday.
However, he stressed that the very low dosage in the cuvée is due to the richness of the wines used to make the Champagne, which in turn are a result of their age – and hence the name of the new blend: Extra Brut Extra Old.
“Extra Brut is a consequence of Extra Old,” he stated.
In fact, the new Champagne is made entirely with reserve wines from six different vintages, spanning harvests from 1988 to 2010, meaning that all the wines in the cuvée have been aged for a minimum of three years on their lees in stainless steel tanks.
The reserve wines have then been blended and matured for a further three years in bottle, followed by nearly another year in Veuve Clicquot’s cellars after disgorgement.
Speaking about the addition to Veuve Clicquot’s range, Demarville explained, “The idea was to create a blend dedicated to the extra brut territory but also to show more and more the importance of reserve wines – how we age reserve wines at Veuve Clicquot and how much they are important for Yellow Label.”
Indeed, he described Extra Brut Extra Old as “an extraction of Yellow Label” – a non-vintage brut Champagne that has a high proportion of reserve wines. (The current release contains 52% of a base wine from the 2013 harvest, and the other 48% of reserve wines from the following vintages: 2012, ’11, ’10, ’09, ’08, ’07 and ’99. It is then given a dosage of 10 g/l).
According to Demarville, the idea for Extra Brut Extra Old came about in 2011, when he decided to trial a new blend comprising just reserve wines from Veuve Clicquot’s collection – which, he stressed, are stored on their lees without fining or filtration, and separated according to harvest, grape variety and cru.
“The idea is to explore this collection of reserve wines and to use the oldest reserve wines of our collection to create the blend of Extra Brut Extra Old,” he said, later explaining that he would from now on create this cuvée every year using different reserve wines selected to ensure a similar style.
Veuve Clicquot cellar master Dominique Demarville shows Extra Brut Extra Old to press at brand owner Moët Hennessy’s London offices on Monday 10 April
Key to the character of the wine is a “creaminess”, said Demarville.
“When we started working on the blend the idea was to make a wine with creaminess, and to balance that with purity and salinity: so when we selected the reserve wines for Extra Brut Extra Old, we wanted to get the perfect balance between a creamy, silky texture – which comes from ageing wines on the lees – and a freshness,” recorded Demarville.
So, despite the ‘Extra Old’ in the name (and black label), the result is a bright, refreshing and very dry style of Champagne that could be enjoyed as an aperitif, as well as with lighter styles of food such as shellfish.
The delicate and fresh character of the Champagne stems in part from the low dosage, but also the fact that the bubbles are very fine – Extra Brut Extra Old has 25% lower pressure than normal: 4.5 bars compared to the standard 6 (taking the new Champagne down to the same level as, for example, Roederer’s zero dosage ‘Brut Nature’, which employs a lower pressure to soften what is a bone dry Champagne).
Demarville stated, “We did the prise de mousse [second fermentation] to get only 4.5 atmosphères because we wanted a very light effervescence.”
This has ensured that the Champagne is “perfect to drink as an aperitif or with very pure and delicate, simple food,” according to Demarville, mentioning a range of dishes, from scallops to parmesan risotto.
Bearing in mind the decision to make a low dosage Champagne at a house known for its relatively rich style of sparkling, and home to two new sweet cuvées in the last two years – Rich and Rich Rosé, both with 60 g/l dosages – was Demarville tempted to make a completely sugarless Champagne as a contrasting statement?
“Yes I did try a zero dosage, but it did not have a perfect balance between purity and creaminess,” he said, adding, “I tried everything from zero to 5gl/ and I found that at 4 or 5g/l it [the sugar] covered the purity, the lightness and the freshness of the wine, and while I loved the zero dosage very much, I believe it was too extreme and we did not enhance the creaminess and silkiness of the texture.
“At 3g/l, I got the perfect balance,” he concluded on this topic.
He also said that around one year of post-disgorgement ageing was ideal for the new Champagne, saying, “We disgorged it in June 2016, and close to 1 year is perfect.”
Nevertheless, he also thinks that Extra Brut Extra Age could continue to develop and improve if cellared, commenting, “I believe this wine can age very, very well.”
Finally, when asked if the launch was intended to promote Veuve Clicquot’s wine credentials following the unveiling of the Rich label – a sweet Champagne designed for mixology – Demarville said that it was not, while explaining that the house was aiming to answer a demand for a broad range of Champagne-drinking occasions.
“We actually created Extra Brut Extra Old before Rich, but we launched Rich before, because the ageing for Extra Brut Extra Old is longer,” he began.
Continuing, he said, “The Champagne market today is becoming more challenging but also very interesting because there are possibilities to innovate, opportunities to create new atmospheres, new tasting territories, and with the Veuve Clicquot portfolio we have today we can create many kinds of experience with our Champagnes for different kinds of consumers.”
Justifying the launch of Rich, he added, “I have the opportunity to travel the world and I noticed that more bartenders are using Champagne in their creations, so Rich gives them the opportunity to have a Champagne for that, because Yellow Label is not a blend made for mixology.”
As for Extra Brut Extra Old, noting that it was being launched first in Europe, and designed for selling in restaurants and independent specialist shops, he said, “With Extra Brut Extra Old we want to reach the community of people who love Champagne.”
He also said that the new cuvée, with an RRP of just under £70, wasn’t intended to be a high-volume seller.
“This is a very small production; we don’t want to use all the best reserve wines for this, because we must keep them for the Yellow Label.”
For more on the wine, including a tasting note, see the following page.