Chef de cave merry-go-round* (Part One)

Dominique Demarville off to Laurent-Perrier next year

The chef de cave merry-go-round in Champagne continues apace. It must be a bit of blow for Moët-Hennessy to lose their highest profile head winemaker, Dominique Demarville so soon after the retirement of the experienced Richard Geoffroy at Dom Pérignon (at the end of 2018). Veuve Clicquot winemakers don’t usually depart the job until they retire, they are not meant to leave in their prime and at 53 Demarville is one of the most experienced winemakers in the appellation, arguably at the peak of his powers.

He’s done a great job in the 13 years he’s been at Clicquot, but as in the nature of the job, only his first solo Vintage Réserve wine from 2008 has been released so far (they didn’t make the straight vintage in 2006 at Clicquot, though Demarville was involved in producing the La Grande Dame 2006 white and pink, the latter one of the best rosés from Clicquot I’ve ever tasted). It takes time for your legacy to be seen and appreciated.

The 2008 has around 5% of the juice fermented and aged in oak casks, a change Demarville introduced, and in prioritising efforts to make Yellow Label a better, more consistent blend with added complexity, he’s introduced some oak in this too. He also blended and launched ‘Extra Old, Extra Aged’ a low dosage (3g/l), multi vintage blend made from Clicquot’s substantial collection of reserve wines aimed partly at shining a light on the quality elements behind Yellow Label, but also a fascinating wine in its own right.

Laurent-Perrier chef de cave Michel Fauconnet is expected to retire soon

When Demarville moves to Laurent-Perrier in January 2020 to work alongside and then take over from their current chef de cave Michel Fauconnet, the palette of flavours he works with will move from a Pinot Noir to Chardonnay emphasis, but in prestige cuvée Grande Siècle – a three vintage blend – he’ll surely find some similarities to his work on Clicquot’s Extra Old, Extra Aged. He’ll also have the chance to make a non-dosé champagne for the first time in over two decades in Ultra Brut and its new cousin Ultra Brut Blanc de Blancs. And who wouldn’t be thrilled to be taking over production of Salon.

While everyone in Champagne was shocked to hear Demarville was leaving Clicquot, it was bit of surprise to find that his former colleague at G.H.Mumm, Didier Mariotti – they worked together there for three vintages – has been lined up to take the job at Clicquot. Mariotti, takes up the position on 26 August, just before the 2019 harvest begins, working alongside Demarville initially to learn the ropes before his appointment as cellar master is confirmed in January 2020.

Didier Mariotti will still be working with mainly Pinot Noir based blends

Unlike Demarville before him, Mariotti didn’t want to leave G.H.Mumm where he had continued the good work that he and Demarville initiated together, first in greatly improving the Cordon Rouge NV blend, but more recently in sharpening the vintage offering – 2006 was his first solo effort and very decent – and making top class Blanc de Blancs Cramant (formerly known, much more helpfully, as Crémant de Cramant) and Blanc de Noirs, Verzenay.

The stylistic change facing Mariotti will be smaller than that facing Demarville, as both G.H. Mumm and Clicquot champagnes are black fruit dominant blends. Having spent time at Moët & Chandon and Nicolas Feuillatte before G.H.Mumm, Mariotti will have worked at four of the five largest brands in Champagne. He should therefore be pretty used to the way these large international drinks companies operate with the management in Paris and not in Reims.

For his part one suspects Demarville will glad to concentrate more on the winemaking side of things, rather than the international PR role the winemakers at LVMH are also expected to excel at. Fauconnet has always been allowed to stay largely out of the limelight at Laurent-Perrier, and certainly doesn’t go on global tours of major international markets every time a new vintage Is released. I’m not even sure he’s ever been to the UK in his capacity as LP chef de cave.

*This analysis column was first published by Drinks International online on 10 July 2019

Mariotti to replace Demarville at Veuve Clicquot

Didier Mariotti in Mumm’s vineyard in Verzenay

Veuve Clicquot have announced that Didier Mariotti, the former G.H. Mumm head winemaker who left the Pernod Ricard owned house in September last year, has been lined up to take over from Dominique Demarville. Mariotti will join Clicquot from 26 August to work alongside his former colleague Demarville, for what Clicquot describes as a “transitional period, before being appointed cellar master and wine director from 1 January 2020”.

This move is made possible by the surprising news that Demarville is leaving Clicquot at the Continue reading “Mariotti to replace Demarville at Veuve Clicquot”

Demarville to leave Clicquot and join Laurent-Perrier as cellar master

Dominique Demarville

Veuve Clicquot cellar master Dominique Demarville is leaving the company at the end of the year to take up the position as chef de cave at Laurent-Perrier. Recruited to replace him at Clicquot by the retiring cellar master Jacques Peters back in 2006, Demarville has apparently again been sought out by the soon to retire incumbent chef de cave at Laurent-Perrier, Michel Fauconnet, planning his succession. Fauconnet is 67 this year and has worked at Laurent-Perrier since 1973.

This news about one of the highest profile winemakers in the whole of Champagne, comes from the reliably well informed website of Sophie Claeys. It was Claeys who was first with the Continue reading “Demarville to leave Clicquot and join Laurent-Perrier as cellar master”

Whose champagne is Majestic enough?

Which champagne should you be opening to toast The Queen’s 91st birthday? It seems only certain, particular fizzes get past the palace gates. In order to supply HM The Queen, you have to be a Royal Warrant Holder and currently there are nine houses that have that privilege. But there may be different corks popping at Highgrove and Clarence House, as out of the nine, only one — Laurent-Perrier — is officially ‘by appointment to HRH The Prince of Wales’.

What they are drinking over at Kensington Palace is Continue reading “Whose champagne is Majestic enough?”

Fifteen prestige cuvées from 2002

The prospect of tasting 15 prestige cuvée champagnes in one sitting later this week is a mouth-watering one.  Especially as they are all from the celebrated 2002 vintage, which will probably, with a little competition from 2008 & ’09, go down as the finest vintage of the past decade. But it’s interesting to speculate — before I have seen the actual list — who will be included in the line-up?

I imagine Dom Pérignon, Cristal and Krug will be there, the last named only released to a rapturous welcome early this year, while Cristal will potentially boast considerable bottle age, given it was first made available over seven years ago. I guess Dom Ruinart, fabulously rich and powerful in 2002 and Clicquot’s La Grande Dame will complete the Moët-Hennessy quartet in the line-up.

Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill and Salon are two further acclaimed ‘02 releases, and I’m pretty sure Taittinger’s Comte de Champagne will feature (see my piece on the recent Finest Bubble vertical tasting of Comte 1996-2006 which included the 2002). To these eight we can probably add Continue reading “Fifteen prestige cuvées from 2002”

Prices remain low despite weakness of pound

At the time of writing the lowest price for champagne in UK supermarkets continues to be at around the £10 a bottle level with ‘exclusive labels’ at Lidl, Aldi and ASDA to the fore. Sainsbury’s and Tesco tend to favour a six bottle discount of 25% running at the same time as other offers and the former grocer has started just such a deal today (16 August) while the latter is expected to follow suit in the run-up to the Bank Holiday weekend.

It’s no surprise to hear that the vast majority of champagne in the UK take home trade is sold at a discount. In the total champagne category Continue reading “Prices remain low despite weakness of pound”

In praise of magnums

As you have probably gathered from recent posts, and those during last year’s festive season, I am a fan of magnums. The magnum is without doubt the perfect receptacle for ageing champagne in and in nearly all cases in my experience, faced with the same wine served from a standard 75cl bottle or magnum format, the latter will taste better.

Champagne aged in magnum develops and evolves more slowly, so it will always seem fresher than its 75cl counterpart. But it isn’t just about freshness, there’s extra zip, more nuances of flavour, and ultimately greater complexity. As I have noted because producers are aware of this, some houses will release and sell their magnum stock at a later point after longer ageing than their bottles. In the case of non-vintage blends, sometimes the base wine that is likely to make up the largest portion of the blend, will be from an older harvest in the case of the magnum non-vintage cuvée – this, as I have mentioned recently elsewhere, is the case in the example of both Bollinger and Veuve Clicquot.

If you are looking to buy something now in magnum for a special celebration over the holidays, it’s really non-vintage wines we are talking about here. Vintage champagne in magnum can also be sublime, but many current releases in magnum simply aren’t ready to drink, at least not if you wish to enjoy them at anything close to their peak. In terms of development they may be three or four years behind the same wine in 75cl bottle format.

For the better houses the price of a magnum is often more than the price of two bottles. That’s partly why I was keen to highlight the deal at Waitrose (13 stores and online) on magnums of Bollinger Special Cuvée, which at least one regular visitor to the site has found and purchased for only a shade over £60.

But where else outside the supermarkets – Sainsbury’s and Tesco have both had good deals on Veuve Clicquot in large bottles – can you find any stock of non-vintage champagne in magnum that you could buy and drink without disappointment (if you have the chance and the cellar space, most good non-vintage champagne in magnum will develop very well over a couple of years or so and if you can afford to put some away so much the better) in the next few days.

Hunting the other day for some bargains among the pages of the Majestic website I found they had quite a selection, albeit that not every store stocks them, so you might have to hunt around. Two of the least expensive on which there are both good deals are Laurent-Perrier, currently down from £70 to £50, and Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut which is £55. Both with the emphasis on freshness, lightness and balance would make great aperitif fizzes for Christmas Day or Boxing Day or before a celebration dinner. Taittinger Brut Réserve with its largish splash of Chardonnay is in a similar vein and down from £70 to £60 per magnum.

The more muscular ‘R’ de Ruinart blend in its distinctive bulbous bottle, down from £100 to £75 a magnum would add a note of class. Class, luxury and seductive creamy texture can be found in the Veuve Clicquot rosé magnums which will set you back £95.

If you want a Blanc de Blancs (all Chardonnay) magnum Ruinart may provide the answer and it’s down from £125 to £100, as is their rosé, though I’d favour the Clicquot pink wine and save a fiver. The much improved G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge blend in magnum, sprayed about on the F1 podium, is £60 as is the apple fresh Lanson Black Label. Bollinger is down from £99 to £80 is you can’t find a Waitrose store stocking it and this wine is a treat with real depth of flavour. Another Pinot Noir dominant non-vintage cuvée of real class which has been on particularly good form in 75cl bottle format when tasted over the course of this year is Louis Roederer Brut Premier which rather surprisingly Majestic sells in magnum at a regular price £10 less than the discounted Bollinger — ie £70. This is a brisker, fresher style but develops beautifully with time so really you should be buying magnums now for 2016 and beyond.

In terms of flavour profile I tend to think of Pol Roger as somewhere between Bollinger and Roederer but it is another serious contender in the magnum stakes. You can buy it from Champagnedirect.co.uk for £74.97 (plus at least £6.95 delivery) in time for the New Year celebrations. Berry Bros & Rudd has a three magnum deal on Pol – enabling you to put two away for future celebrations — whereby the regular price of £84 falls to £67.20 a magnum, a saving of £50.40. This is the preferred Christmas tipple of their talented buyer Simon Field MW, whose commentary on the delights of the magnum, kindly penned for my book on Champagne, I am reproducing below its glorious unedited entirety.

Magnum Force

“Champagne comes in a bewildering array of  bottle sizes, from the somewhat perfunctory quarter bottle, best concealed in a floral gift when visiting a hospitalised relative, all the way up to the Nebuchadnezzar and beyond, the larger the size the more impractical the vessel and the more remote the eponymous Biblical origin.

Nebuchadnezzar we have heard of; he, after all, was famous for selling his wife for a pair of shoes. But Melchizedek I know not; a Melchizedek is a 30 litre bottle, and in addition to being fantastically impractical (unless one has a small crane to hand) is also bound to be of inferior quality, as the liquid has been decanted from a series of smaller bottles, post ageing, and will have lost freshness and fizz in the process.

Indeed this process, known as transvasage, is practiced on all the large formats above jeroboam size and instantly rules them out as candidates for the best bottle size. But why the Magnum? Well beyond the theatre and the sheer indulgence of having one on one’s table, the voice of experience dictates that this size, above all others, allows Champagne to age most gracefully and to maintain the fundamental tension between acidity, sugar, fruit and fizz which make this small and essentially rather dull region so famous.

It’s all to do, they say, with the rate of oxidation and the relative surface area of liquid exposed to the air. So they say. All rather tenuous in my opinion. For me it’s a matter of taste alone and for this reason, every Christmas Day, we open up proceedings (not a minute before noon you understand) with a Magnum of Pol Roger. Not a bottle, not a Methuselah and most certainly not a wretched Melchizedek, but a Magnum. Sir Winston Churchill would approve, I suspect.”
Simon Field MW, buyer at Berry Bros & Rudd