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A Bottle of the Widow
August 1, 2012 2:15 PM   Subscribe

In 1799, at the age of 21, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin married Francois Clicquot, the son of a Reims wool merchant and vintner. After his untimely death in 1805, she was left, at 27, with a five year old daughter and became known as the Veuve Clicquot.

Barbe-Nicole set about expanding her small, local champagne business into the internationally-regarded drink and brand it is now. She did this by revolutionizing Champagne production, developing the ‘method Champenoise’ as it is known today, and with her chef de caves Antoin Mueller, created the riddling rack. Hers was the first Champagne at the Czar’s court in Russia, after Napoleon’s blockade fell in 1811, cementing its place in history. The subject of the excellent book The Widow Clicquot, Barbe-Nicole later became known as La Grande Dame.

Cliquot(YouTube, and you may want to turn down the sound) is known as ‘Yellow Label,’ due to it’s distinctive yellow-orange label, but this was not always so. Barbe-Nicole is also famous for her advice to a great-granddaughter:
The world is in perpetual motion and we must invent the things of tomorrow. One must go before others, be determined and exacting, and let your intelligence direct your life. Act with audacity.
In 2010, a shipwreck was found in the Baltic, with still-sealed bottles of ’The Widow’ inside. Previously on Metafilter

Veuve Clicquot is a subsidiary of LVMH, which owns a few other Champagne houses.
Previously on MetaFilter: The Night They Invented Champagne
Finally, you can impress and scare your friends by opening a bottle of champagne with a sword, known as ‘sabreage.’ Previously on MetaFilter, from 2009, 2006, and 2001
posted by the man of twists and turns (28 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
Of course, Barbe-Nicole Clicquot is not the only famous woman in Champagne.
Elizabeth Law de Lauriston-Boubers tasted Champagne for the first time in her life at her engagement party. Shortly thereafter, in 1923, she married Jacques Bollinger, owner and president of the Bollinger estate, the third generation of Bollingers to manage the historic house.
After Jacques passed away in 1941, Lily managed the vineyards through WWII and until 1971. Tante Lily would ride her bicycle to check on her vineyards, but she is most famous for the quote she gave the Daily Mail in 1961, on when it was appropriate to drink Champagne:
"I drink it when I'm happy and when I'm sad.
Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone.
When I have company I consider it obligatory.
I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and I drink it when I am.
Otherwise I never touch it, unless I'm thirsty."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:23 PM on August 1, 2012 [19 favorites]


And such a tasty bottle of bubbles it is, too!

[useless information] Capt. Renault orders a bottle of 1926 Veuve Cliquot in Casablanca. [/useless information]
posted by Thorzdad at 2:26 PM on August 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


Always order tthe Widow mates, chins up
posted by The Whelk at 2:29 PM on August 1, 2012


Contrary to expectations, this post made me miss my grandmother. She died a couple of years ago and I loved her very much which was not always easy. My grandmother, who was in many ways a difficult and ridiculous person, drank Veuve Cliquot almost exclusively. There are restaurants in Providence that don't normally serve champagne that would keep a half-bottle for her (so she claimed). If a waiter asked her if she wanted water she'd say "I never touch the stuff!".

Eventually a doctor told her she had to start drinking Gatorade because of electrolytes or something, so she had it but she drank it exclusively out of champagne glasses. Truly, my grandmother aspired to be a character in a Henry James novel.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:31 PM on August 1, 2012 [29 favorites]


I suspect your grandmother and I would have gotten along famously Mrs. Pterodactyl.
posted by jph at 2:33 PM on August 1, 2012


Even more interesting is the life of Charles Heidsieck, the original Champagne Charlie, who opened the market for French champagne to America before and during the Civil War (during which unpleasantness Gen. Beast Butler had him thrown in jail for alleged espionage, resulting in serious ill health and an international diplomatic kerfuffle known as the Heidsieck Incident. There is a heartwarming happy ending.

(There's a rather too long drama on his life starring a younger Hugh Grant.)
posted by BWA at 2:33 PM on August 1, 2012


And not only is this a medal worthy post, it reminded me suddenly of summer in Finland, where its become quite the thing to pop open a bottle of bubbly for no occasion at all... just sitting in the sun.
posted by infini at 2:33 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Champers all round darling!
posted by The Whelk at 2:35 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's the most beautiful label. The widow / veuve intersection is a talking point in the archaeology of indo-european languages. A completely unscholarly discussion of the issues at stake.
posted by tigrefacile at 2:41 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


> If a waiter asked her if she wanted water she'd say "I never touch the stuff!".

I'm assuming she was too much of a lady to complete the rest of the quote.

"I never drink water; fish fuck in it" --attributed to W. C. Fields (of course)
posted by komara at 2:43 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


A toast to Monsieur Clicquot, for having the decency to die young!

summer in Finland, where its become quite the thing to pop open a bottle of bubbly for no occasion at all...

This is how champagne is best drunk. No one on their deathbed has ever thought, "I wish I hadn't drunk all that good champagne." (Unless they were, like, lying broken and bleeding on a sidewalk after falling off a hotel balcony or something.)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:54 PM on August 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


Kippis!
posted by infini at 3:08 PM on August 1, 2012


Look what you fuckers made me do
posted by The Whelk at 3:12 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Vueve is solid. Always.

Great history too, I see.

Thing is once you start on it, you gotta finish on it, because heaven forbid you mix it with let's say...um whiskey.

You don't want to go there. Trust me. Just don't do it/
posted by Skygazer at 3:31 PM on August 1, 2012


I just went straight for the Glenmorangie... no champers here, boo!
posted by infini at 3:50 PM on August 1, 2012


she is one of my heros!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:59 PM on August 1, 2012


its become quite the thing to pop open a bottle of bubbly for no occasion at all...

This is how champagne is best drunk. No one on their deathbed has ever thought, "I wish I hadn't drunk all that good champagne.


This is the most important truth. Champagne is for special moments. All moments are special.
posted by winna at 4:02 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another famous champagne widow, Odette Pol-Roger:
"Churchill had been a loyal customer of the firm since 1908, but his friendship with the family did not begin until 1944, when he was introduced to Odette Pol-Roger by Alfred Duff Cooper at the British Embassy's Armistice Day party in Paris. The Prime Minister, who had a romantic admiration for France, was captivated by Mme Pol-Roger's elegance and beauty, as he was by the champagne served at luncheon that day, Pol Roger 1928, a full-bodied vintage.
So began a harmless flirtation (indulged by Mrs Churchill) that lasted until Sir Winston's death in 1965. When he left France, he gave instructions that every time he returned to Paris Odette Pol-Roger was to be invited to dinner. In 1947, at the Duff Coopers' leaving ball, Churchill made his entrance on the arm of Mme Pol-Roger, who was wearing red satin.
Each year on his birthday, Odette Pol-Roger would dispatch Churchill a case of vintage champagne - usually the 1928 until supplies ran out in 1953. (...)

"The other night," she told The Daily Telegraph in 1970, "I was in Paris, dining at the Embassy with Christopher Soames, and afterwards I got into my car and drove to Normandy.
"As the sun was coming up I was thinking of getting a bit of sleep when I looked down from my bedroom window and saw a huge trout in the stream which runs through the property. So I grabbed my rod and rushed down and caught him - still in my dinner gown. Well! Life must be enjoyed, no?""

posted by iviken at 4:15 PM on August 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


a harmless flirtation (indulged by Mrs Churchill)

Champagne, then, unlocks the secrets to this most delicate of dances
posted by infini at 4:19 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I do like the Veuve. But if you find yourself near Calistoga, in the Napa Valley, I recommend a visit to Frank Family Vineyards, where Marilyn Monroe used to drink bubbly back when it was known as Hans Kornell.

They have a fun dog there, too.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 4:58 PM on August 1, 2012


Sabrage is a macho thing, often practiced by militaires trying to impress each other. It may look nifty but it's not at all cool: it's basically impossible to do without venting a large amount of carbon dioxide from the bottle (as foam) thus ruining the drink somewhat.

Think about how long and arduous the task of getting those little bubbles in there was. Why would you want to spray them all over the place?
posted by Pazzovizza at 5:07 PM on August 1, 2012


...it's basically impossible to do without venting a large amount of carbon dioxide from the bottle (as foam) thus ruining the drink somewhat.

This has not been my experience. With a hefty weapon that has a sharp corner on it, it takes only a tap to break off the top. Most champagnes, including Veuve, have a scored edge specifically to facilitate this.

Of course, it's always somewhat militaire. It's a weapon after all. For this purpose I find a WWI bayonet works perfectly. Easily transported and handled.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:18 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


The best kind of soda pop!
posted by BlueHorse at 5:20 PM on August 1, 2012


I know I'm a heathen to say it, but I might prefer Italian sparkling over vrai champagne. Though, my French choices tend toward Veuve Clicquot. So there you have it.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:27 PM on August 1, 2012


Sabarage is both impressive when done right and a statement to the world that you have A LOT of champagne and are not willing to spill some. This is a good thing.
posted by The Whelk at 6:32 PM on August 1, 2012


not unwilling*
posted by The Whelk at 6:41 PM on August 1, 2012


I live in Alsace, and we drive through Reims every time we visit family in Normandy. The amount of money that the Champagne business brought in to the region is truly amazing. We live in a different wine region ourselves, which has many wonderful types, but Reims is a whole 'nother thing, and magnitudes larger. The scale of the vineyards in Champagne blow my mind, and I'm from the American midwest- we have nothing like it.

That said I'm still a bigger fan of the delightful Crémant from Alsace, nicer than Champagne in my opinion. To each their own, of course :)
posted by EricGjerde at 7:47 AM on August 2, 2012


Champagne Growing Season Worst In Decades

Time to stock up.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:27 PM on August 16, 2012


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