Tasting Vin Clair at Veuve Clicquot, Future Champagne in the Making

Feb 17, 15 Tasting Vin Clair at Veuve Clicquot, Future Champagne in the Making

I like to think that vin clair tasting is similar to Bordeaux en primeur in that it’s a tasting where you are given a glimpse of the wine to come. With vin clair though you have to use your imagination a lot more to envision how the final blend will turn out. Bear in mind also that it’s not 2 or even 10 vin clair that have to be tasted, it can run into the hundreds. The process often takes weeks before the final assessment of each wine is done and the blend selected.

pinot noir, muenier vin clair

pinot noir, meunier vin clair

chardonny and pinot noir vin clair

chardonny and pinot noir vin clair

Vin clair is the wine that is produced after the first fermentation of the grapes. Just a reminder, to make champagne, the wine goes through 2 fermentations. Vin clair or base wines are blended together and then put in bottle for the second fermentation which produces all those lovely tiny bubbles.

If you like champagne, you’ll hate vin clair but then again, it’s not made for consumption now but in 3 years time, at the very least. These are wines that are very young, they are usually tasted 6 months or so after harvest to access their potential. The aim is to have wines with lots of acidity as well as showing the typicity of the 3 grapes – chardonnay, pinot noir, meunier. This is where the winemakers vision comes in, he or she must imagine how the blend will taste after a minimum of 3 years in bottle and often the wine stays in the bottle for much, much longer.

Chef de Cave, Dominique Demarville

Chef de Cave, Dominique Demarville

As I’m here in champagne at the moment, I was invited to taste a few vin clair with the Chef de Cave of Veuve Clicquot, Dominique Demarville. He had a few samples of pinot noir, chardonnay and meunier to taste with each wine coming from a different parcel of grapes and a different village. Dominique wanted to take us on a journey of the region with grapes from the north to the south and east to west.

new tasting room

new tasting room

We had our tasting in the brand new tasting room of Veuve Clicquot that opened in September 2014. We were some of the first people to use the room for a tasting. It’s very sleek and modern with a beautiful photo of the vines covering the entire rear wall. There’s also a map of the region covering another wall which is handy for pointing out the vineyards in the region.

Dominique said that 2014 was not an easy year. The weather was wet and rainy which lead to lots of problems in the vineyards. There was also a problem with an infestation of the Suzuki fly which destroys the skin of the grapes and leads to contamination by bacteria. Some parcels were so damaged that they were not harvested at all. Dominique said that to ensure that they got the best grapes possible, they had to pick steadily and he met every 2 days with his team to compare notes on the state of the grapes. However, they did manage to bring in healthy grapes although 2014 is not going to be declared a vintage year for Veuve Clicquot.

Map of the Champagne region

Map of the Champagne region

I first tried vin clair 5 years ago and I am quite pleased that I can now differentiate the aromas and flavours of vin clair. When I first started, it was all acidity and pretty much nothing else. And now after a few years of tasting, well, below are my tasting notes for a few of Veuve Clicquot’s 2014 vin clairs we tried that afternoon:

Meunier from Dormans (Valle de la Marne): Fresh but soft and round on the palate, having a pleasant and approachable nature, easy to drink and balanced but Dominique does not see a lot of potential to age. However, he thinks it will give roundness to the blend.

Meunier from Villedommange (Montagne de Reims) : A wine with much more structure and acidity, very lively and linear. A full bodied wine with length on the palate. Villedommange is a historical area for VC and gives meunier with structure and linear characteristics. 2014 however doesn’t have enough structure to be used in a vintage blend, they’ll use it for the yellow label champagne.

Pinot Noir from Loche sur Ourse (Cotes de Bar – Aube): Fruity nose with good acidity and a long finish, again, another wine with lots of roundness on the palate, clean and pleasant. The Aube is an under-appreciated  and under- valued region in Dominique’s opinion. Meunier is usually 15% – 20% of their blend.

Pinot Noir from Tuaxiere (Montagne de Reims): This wine had more acidity and minerality than the previous with a long finish. It also showed more white and yellow fruit on the palate but was not as powerful or have as much energy as a wine destined for vintage should be.

Pinot Noir from Bouzy (Montagne de Reims): Fruity and intense nose, a big wine with lots of acidity but still having an approachable character. Also having a chalky note to it but not much depth. Although July and August was a terrible summer, September saved the harvest.

Pinot Noir from Verzy (Montagne de Reims): Not as intense as the Bouzy, the wine starts out slow but builds up as you go along. The wine ends in a burst of fireworks with a crisp and precise finish. Dominique thinks this was the most beautiful pinot noir of the year.

Chardonnay from Montgueux (Aube): Plenty of fruit notes with a long and saline finish. It had a softness on the palate with hints of grapefruit.

Chardonnay from Trepail ( Montagne de Reims): Pure and intense, a very linear wine with a laser like quality and lots of tension on the palate. It did however have a rather short finish.

Chardonnay from Vertus, 2nd largest Grand Cru (Cotes de Blanc): a vineyard owned by Veuve Clicquot. A wine with a very ripe fruit nose, long and rich  with a finish that doesn’t end. The wine is a fine balance of acidity and structure.

Chardonnay from Chouilly, 3rd largest Grand Cru (Cotes de Blanc): Exotic fruit notes on the nose with a flinty and smoky finish. A weighty wine and very approachable. Dominique noted that 2014 had a lot of fruit notes, acidity and elegance but the wines lacked structure and were not suitable for vintage champagne. However, for their non-vintage, wines that are meant to be drunk on release, these wines would make good champagnes.

Pinot Noir from Bouzy (Montagne de Reims): Supple and soft, a very generous wine with fruitiness and acidity, intense colour with good balance. Rose notes, an easy and approachable wine that is good enough to drink now.

Pinot Noir from Verzy (Montagne de Reims): Raspberries on the nose, a wine with more structure and acidity then the previous one with sour cherries on the palate. A mouth filling wine that really coats the mouth. It has loads of minerality and the tannins are present. Dominique thinks this is a good candidate for a reserve wine.

Pinot Noir from Bouzy, Veuve Clicquot owned vineyard (Montagne de Reims):Linear and structured on the attack, very savoury with lots of elegance. Dominique calls it the Chambolle Musigny of Champagne.

All in all, an interesting exercise and we’ll see how the champagne tastes when it’s released in 3 years time. And some of it might also make it into the Grand Dame but only time will tell.

Veuve Clicquot

Veuve Clicquot

 

 

 

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