Didier Mariotti the 11th chef de cave of Veuve Clicquot, possibly the most icnonic Champagne house of all times.

Didier is a gentleman of Corsican and Burgundian origins issued from a family of winemakers. A qualified agronomist, he moved to Champagne where he obtained a degree in Enology from the University of Reims. With such background, he went into champagne making for several major houses, eventually joining Veuve Clicquotin in 2019 to replace long-serving Dominique Demarville. With his distinctive aplomb and smile, he explains how complex and detailed is the making of Veuve Clicquot champagnes, and particularly of Yellow Label–among the most popular champagnes in any market–which should always be of the same high quality and distinctive taste, year after year. 

How do you define the Veuve Clicquot style?

I define the Veuve Clicquot style with that of Yellow Label, our brut non-vintage champagne which embodies the identity of the house. It has aromatic complexity, some notes of evolution, and a lot of liveliness, for a light, refreshing style that makes you want to come back to it.

During the tasting, you appreciate its white and yellow fruits and when the wine opens in the glass you perceive delicate notes of dried fruits, hazelnuts, praline, a bit of nougat and honey that come from the reserve wines, especially the older ones. All this with always a lot of freshness. That’s the Veuve Clicquot style: generosity with pep.

That’s the Veuve Clicquot style: generosity with pep.

Tell us about the blend of Yellow Label and the role of reserve wines.

Yellow Label is made of 50-55% pinot noir­–the emblematic grape of our house which dominates all our cuvées with different expressions of intensity and complexity–that gives it structure. Chardonnay (28-33%) brings elegance and finesse, and a low percentage of pinot meunier (15-20%) completes the blend. The grapes come from 50 to 60 different vintages.

Yellow Label is our flagship wine and must therefore always be the same, with the same level of quality, and this is not always easy, especially with difficult harvests. To achieve this consistency, Yellow Label incorporates between 30 and 45% of reserve wines depending on the profile of the base year. It then ages in the cellar for a minimum of three years before disgorgement and receives a dosage of 10 g/l.

Our collection of reserve wines is possibly the largest in Champagne. Between the wines of the year and the reserve wines we have nearly 1,000 wines that we taste regularly. 

Our collection of reserve wines is possibly the largest in Champagne. We have nearly 1,000 wines that we taste regularly. 

The work begins when all the wines of the vintage are noted very precisely according to 10 criteria. Upon this, we decide whether to use them in the blends of the year or to keep them as reserve wines.

All our reserve wines undergo MLF and are kept separately, unfiltered, by grape variety, cru, and vintage. We taste them every six months to analyze their profiles and try to anticipate their development, understand their aging potential and get a more precise idea of ​​each one of them. 

We divide our reserve wines into three types: young wines between 1 and 3 years old which represent the bulk. Then the mature wines that are between 4 and 10 years old, which still represent a significant volume. And finally, the wines that are older than 10 years (up to 1988), which we call “spices” because you don’t need much to add something to the blend. It’s like cooking: spices are a touch that makes all the difference.

In Yellow Label 50-60% of reserve wines are young, 40-45% of wines are more mature, and 1-3% are “spices”. But for each blend, we adjust according to the harvest of the year. With ripe and rich harvests, we will include younger wines to revive the blend, and always include the spices in small touches. But with rather fresh harvests, we will include more mature wines.

Thanks to this work of precision, we manage to express the Veuve Clicquot style rather than the vintage for a Yellow Label consistent in style and quality, with a certain complexity but always fresh and light.

But for consumers looking for more vinosity, structure and complexity, we offer Veuve Clicquot Réserve Cuvée Brut, a Yellow Label with one year of additional cellar aging and one year after dosages instead of six months, with a liqueur of dosage that comes with a bit of oak to add a bit of structure and complexity.

In 2017 you launched Extra Brut Extra Old (EBEO), a champagne made only with reserve wines. What is the genesis of this innovative cuvée?

The identity of Veuve Clicquot is strongly anchored in its history which is the basis of our line of conduct. At the same time, the house always has an open ear for what is going on in the world. When Madame Clicquot invented rosé champagne by blending, she innovated. When she invented riddling, she innovated. This is why we are always given the chance to try new things, and that’s what we did with EBEO, but also with La Grande Dame, our préstige cuvée that we have relaunched. 

We are always given the chance to try new things, and that’s what we did with Extra Brut Extra Old, but also with La Grande Dame that we have relaunched. 

In EBEO the blend is similar to Yellow Label, with pinot noir dominating (50%) and roughly the same proportions for chardonnay and meunier, but we only use reserve wines, with the youngest wine from 2010 and the oldest from 1988, and in EBEO 2 we go from 2012 back to 1990.

The younger wines of the blend must be stored for a minimum of 3 years in stainless-steel vats plus 3 years in bottles aging in the cellar.

This cuvée receives a dosage of 3 g/l because the wine has so much structure and depth that it needs very little dosage.

I love this cuvée, with less freshness than Yellow Label but riper fruits, and even aromas of spices, with a very elegant evolution that gives complexity to the wine.

What is your philosophy on dosage? Can we imagine EBEO brut nature in the future?

Dosage is very important because it’s the last moment you interact with the wine. The most important for me is the wine you use to make the liqueur de dosage, which impacts the champagne. What matters is the wine, and the final touch represented by dosage can be omitted in some wines, but not a priori. I always want to have the freedom to add dosage if I need to. I listen to the wine and decide how to express it best, with the right amount of sugar and the right reserve wine to make the liqueur de dosage.

I always want to have the freedom to add dosage if I need to. I listen to the wine and decide how to express it best.

With your meticulous use of reserve wines, you are able to produce non-vintage champagnes of consistent high quality over the years. However, many BSA champagnes made by growers are less consistent, but that does not prevent them from being appreciated. What is your take on that?

Our priority is to guarantee to our consumers the same style and quality every year. This is particularly true for Yellow Label. The process to achieve this is extremely rigorous and we master it.

Our priority is to guarantee to our consumers the same style and quality every year.

With their BSA, winegrowers often express the characteristics of each harvest because they include little or no reserve wines. I find this approach intellectually interesting because is vintage champagne only for great years? Each harvest has different expressions and some houses have done beautiful things in difficult years.

I think that in Champagne we must always strive for excellence, search for quality and perfection while leaving room for everyone to express their style and ideas.

Your predecessor, Dominique Demarville, also brought his ideas by improving La Grande Dame. Tell us about your prestige cuvée and how it differs from your Vintage.

I thank Dominique because he dared to considerably increase the proportion of Pinot Noir to 92% in this cuvée with the 2008 vintage (the remaining 8% being Chardonnay). It’s a change that makes all the difference.

What we are looking for with La Grande Dame, is a delicate, very precise, very chiseled wine, with tension, energy, liveliness. For this, many pinots noirs come from the Montagne de Reims north, especially Verzy and Verzenay. They bring this tension, this salinity, with elegance and pep.

What we are looking for with La Grande Dame, is a delicate, very precise, very chiseled wine, with tension, energy, liveliness.

Vintage is a “southern” wine, warmer, more joyful, rounder. Here, the pinots noirs make 65% of the blend. They come from Aÿ, Bouzy, and Ambonnay whose wines are bolder, with texture and body.

There will be some variations in each vintage, but overall, this is our approach for La Grande Dame and Vintage, with two completely different expressions of pinot noir. For me, Vintage is to be enjoyed lying on a sofa, with a dish. But if I need something that tones me up, La Grande Dame gives me that energy.

Vintage and La Grande Dame are also available in rosé, and you also have Rosé brut. Tell us about your rosés.

In 1818, Madame Clicquot was the first to blend white wine with red wine in Champagne, so rosé champagne is embedded in our history and our DNA.

In 1818 Madame Clicquot was the first to blend white wine with red wine in Champagne, so rosé champagne is embedded in our history and our DNA.

In Champagne, some make light rosés and others much stronger rosés.

Our Rosé (brut) is a sharing cuvée, with a refreshing side. It is the same blend of Yellow Label with 12% red wine added to it, which we produce in Bouzy by using Burgundy-type maceration. These red wines are 90-98% pinots noirs with some meuniers.

On the other hand, in Rosé Vintage 2008 we use 61% pinot noir, 34% chardonnay, and 5% meunier. Pinot noir red wines from Bouzy complete this cuvée. Vintage Rosé is powerful, with roundness; it is a rosé champagne for food.

And La Grande Dame Rosé 2008 is still made from 8% chardonnay and 92% pinot noir, but here 14% is vinified in red. These pinots come from Clos Colin in Bouzy, one of the historic plots of Veuve Clicquot’s vineyard. This is a more elegant rosé. Ans since 2008 we also include a tiny bit of wines fermented in oak casks (5%), which remain very discreet because for me wine is a question of harmony. Wood is the touch of man, so we must add it while respecting the wine.

Wood is the touch of man, so we must add it while respecting the wine.

Lately, the Champagne region has been implementing more attentive viticulture practices. In this context, organic farming is expanding, although remains very marginal (3% of the vineyard in 2020). Can we imagine a 100% organic Champagne vineyard?

I like organic, I buy organic products, but organic is difficult in Champagne, given the climatic hazards and vagaries that affect our region. We often have very low temperatures, frost, and a lot of rain.

I find it very impactful for the land, for our vineyard, for our heritage, to bring 100% of the Champagne region towards a viticulture that is more respectful of the environment. In this regard, Veuve Clicquot has already stopped using herbicides and has implemented a pricing policy with premiums for grapes from vineyards without herbicides or certified for sustainable viticulture.

Once the whole region achieves this, it will be much easier to move towards organic viticulture. We must get there step by step.

Veuve Clicquot has stopped using herbicides and has implemented a pricing policy with premiums for grapes from certified sustainable viticulture.

What is champagne to you?

Before arriving in Champagne, I considered champagne the way most consumers do: a festive wine to celebrate the joyful moments in life. This is extraordinary.

But here I discovered that champagne is a great wine with such a diversity of expressions in the range of each house, and between houses, and with a great capacity to age thanks to its effervescence.

Champagne is a great wine but also a magical product, which brings a lot of joy. We want to celebrate all the beauty of life with a glass of champagne.

So champagne is a great wine but also a magical product, which brings a lot of joy. We want to celebrate all the beauty of life with a glass of champagne. Champagne is a moment of sharing. I can drink wine on my own, but champagne on my own, never!