About a year ago the term ‘veuve’ (said approximately – “voov”) came up in a French class. It means widow. I thought of the champagne Veuve Cliquot (“klee-coh”) and the connection seemed strange–Why would a widow be in the name of a wine that is universally associated with celebration?
Upon research, it turns out that there have been many widows associated with French Champagne houses over the centuries. In the 19th century, Nicole-Barbe Ponsardin, later Cliquot, and Louise Pommery were credited with the salvation of their respective houses after the early deaths of their husbands. In the 20th century, Marie-Louise Lanson de Nonancourt (Laurent Perrier) and Lily Bollinger were to manage their houses through World Wars and German occupation.
In 1805, at the age of 27, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin lost her husband, Francois Cliquot, to typhoid and, although she lacked knowledge or trade experience, she convinced her father-in-law to let her manage the family wine business. Cliquot, as it turned out, made up for inexperience with a shrewd sense of strategy and an almost modern business philosophy of listening to and applying her customers’ feedback.
Within just a few years she had established the Veuve Cliquot brand as the premiere champagne to the Russian aristocracy.
Together with her cellar master, Antoine Muller, Cliquot is credited with developing the process of remuage, the process of storing champagne in bottles at an angle and turning them periodically to allow the dead yeast cells to settle and later be removed. This process, now mostly mechanized, is still in use and is responsible for the clear and bright champagne we still know today.
In 2006, 23.15 million bottles of Champagne were shipped to the United States. Veuve Cliquot was ranked second in sales behind Moët & Chandon.
I recently tried a bottle of the non-vintage Veuve Cliquot. This is a full-bodied Champagne made from a blend of two-thirds Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and one-third Chardonnay. It has a beautiful yellow gold color with a profusion of tiny bubbles. The nose is the classic yeasty bread dough and toast, with some mild citrus notes. It has a smooth mouth feel with tart apple and citrus rind flavors and a long finish. Although the price point is relatively high, it is available in half bottles with more than enough for a couple of glasses of celebration each.By Richard Arebalo