Helena Nicklin looks into the story and inspiration behind the new La Grande Dame 2012, the limited edition, leading lady from Veuve Clicquot Champagne.
Earlier this year, I wrote a love letter to one of my greatest wine heroes: the French widow Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, figurehead for Veuve Clicquot and quite literally, the Grande Dame of Champagne.
Here was a woman who stepped up to the plate aged 27 after her husband passed away, refused to liquidate his business and built a globally renowned Champagne brand. The latest vintage release of Veuve Clicquot’s top cuvée created in homage to this great lady, looks a little different this year.
For the 2012, the maison decided to collaborate with the iconic Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama to spread a colourful message of optimism and hope through a uniquely stunning polka dot label and a gift box that is a work of art in itself. It’s the perfect antidote to the approaching, anxious-making winter of 2020.
My Heart That Blooms In The Darkness Of The Night
Although separated by one hundred and fifty years, the stories of Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin and Yayoi Kusama share many similarities, not least the desire and the courage to break free from strict, social constraints and forge powerful careers in areas where women rarely trod at the time. For Madame Clicquot, it was smashing the glass ceiling to become an entrepreneur and invent not one, but three methods that revolutionized the production of wine from Champagne.
For Yayoi Kusama, it was her drive to throw everything she had at her diverse talents for painting, sculpting, writing and performing in order to break through into the Western art scene, which at the time was heavily male dominant. Their desires to be daringly different come together beautifully in this new 2012 vintage with the label and box bearing Yayoi’s iconic, polka dots and flowers, signifying vital energy, love and a celebration of life.
In magnum form, just one hundred versions of an original flower sculpture exist, each wrapping itself around the bottle in a vibrant, bold display that grabs the attention. Yayoi Kusama has called this piece ‘My Heart That Blooms In The Darkness Of The Night’.
Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2012
And the wine itself? La Grande Dame has always been elaborated with a majority of Pinot Noir as the Veuve herself would always say, ‘the finest white wines come from red grapes’. Since the 2008 vintage, La Grande Dame has been made almost entirely with Pinot Noir, with 90% of it making up the lion’s share of the 2012 vintage along with just 10% Chardonnay.
This heavier focus on Pinot Noir helps differentiate even more between the finesse and structure of La Grande Dame and Veuve Clicquot’s straight vintage Champagne, which carries around 65% Pinot Noir for more of a focus on texture and volume.
Only grapes from the maison’s own, historic, mainly Grand Cru parcels go into this wine including those in Aÿ, Verzenay, Verzy, Ambonnay and the brilliantly named Bouzy. There’s more of a focus on Pinot Noir vineyards in the North than there used to be as the grapes there produce wines that are naturally more elegant and refined.
As anyone can imagine, every ‘cru’, every vineyard, every plot in a marginal climate like Champagne offers a subtly different accent to the grape itself. Even the Chardonnay hails from iconic Grand Cru parcels in Avize and Mesnil-Sur-Oger in the famous Côte des Blancs.
While still very young, La Grande Dame offers ripe notes of yellow fruit, white blossom and candied peel on the nose, followed up by honeyed apricot and apple skin with a cool, mineral precision, giving it a nerviness that will allow it to age well. Not that my bottle even stood a chance to do that…
La Grande Dame 2012 is available for pre-order from the 27th October exclusively at Selfridges for £160. It will be available from its launch date on the 9th November exclusively at Selfridges Corner Shop and Selfridges.com.
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