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Laura Heywood blogs from the launch of Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2004

Published:  02 July, 2012

The fanfare surrounding the launch of Veuve Cliquot La Grande Dame 2004 reached a climax today with a tutored tasting on stage at the London Coliseum, the grandiose home of the English National Opera.

The spotlights were trained on the leading, orange-clad lady and adding his dulcet tones to the tasting was chef de cave Dominique Demarville, who proudly presented the latest vintage of Veuve's prestige cuvee to an avid drinks trade audience.

First launched to celebrate Veuve's bicentennial in 1972 and made exclusively during exceptional vintages, La Grande Dame was tailor-made by Demarville with the vintage 1962. The latest 2004 launch is a blend of 69% Pinot Noir and 31% Chardonnay which has spent six months on its lees before disgorgement in November 2011.

Le Grande Dame 2004 is characterised by its purity and minerality. It's still "a teenager with a long way to go", according to Demarville, and displays citrus and flowers on the nose and a chalky, crisp palate. Demarville's fears that the 2004 vintage would lack body were unfounded, he reveals, and "perfect" weather and a yield that was twice the normal size resulted in a very satisfying harvest.

The wine also boasts the second highest amount of Chardonnay in any of the La Grande Dame blends created (behind only the 1988 vintage with 40% Chardonnay). The creaminess and soft, toasty notes of the 2004 are evident in the Chardonnay base wine from Mesnil, which displays a lemon brightness and delicate lightness. Tasting the sparkling's still base wine helps demonstrate how each unique vintage, and the reserve wine created in that year, have shaped the final product, according to Demarville, who matched each La Grande Dame in the vertical tasting with their base wine.

The 1998 La Grande Dame is more concentrated with fuller body and a lighter yield compared to 2004. The Pinot Noir base wine from Ay has surprising amounts of energy for its age with a rich austerity that's reflected in the 1998 La Grande Dame. The 1998 sparkling is intense with coffee, toasty notes and yeasty flavours. The hot weather during the 1998 vintage can be seen in the spicy, pepper spine and intense acidity of the sparkling.

The much-heralded 1996 vintage is a cracker to taste 16 years on. The Pinot Noir base wine from Verzy is crammed with soft ripe fruits and far removed from the average flavours found in the base wines on show. Smoke and yeast come through on the nose with a crisp acidity, richness and lively finish. The candid fruits and smoky flavours carry into the 1996 La Grande Dame, with delicate truffle flavours, cooked quince sweetness and incredible length.

The 1995 base Pinot Noir from Verzenay is on its way out but still displays toffee and creme caramel notes. In contrast the 1995 sparkling is a big, meaty carnivore's wine with a smoky bacon nose and integrated fruit. Balance abounds with good integration.

For Demarville, 1996 lacked perfect balance with picking carried out too early, while in 1995, timing was spot on. 1995 therefore holds more ageing potential and will still be well-balanced 20 years down the line, he believes.

Aged for 21 years in tank on the lees is La Grande Dame 1990, which benefited from being a vintage characterised by ripeness, and the 40% Chardonnay in the blend ensures the wine has enough elegance and freshness. The base wine, a Pinot Noir from Ay, has lively exotic fruits and perfume with a cigar spice. The 1990 is a big wine with minerality and firmness that asks to be accompanied with food, as does the 1988.

The 1988 La Grande Dame has honey notes with almonds and slight oxidation. The palate still has length, crisp acidity and a juicy finish. The base tasted alongside it was a pure Chardonnay from Cramant. Although not used in La Grande Dame, it's the last one from 1988 available to taste, Demarville explains. It's a fresh white wine with milk and honey flavours and candied fruits that could easily be drunk as a still wine in its own right for perhaps 10 more years.

The next roll-out of La Grande Dame will be the 2006 vintage followed by the 2008, Demarville reveals, while adding that decisions are still being made on the quality of the 2011 vintage.

The latest 2004 launch hits shelves this month with an rrp of £135 (available at Harrods, Selfridges, Fine & Rare, Majestic and Jeroboams), and accompanying it will be La Grande Dame rosé 2004 (rrp £250).