Recommende​d Reading: The Widow Clicquot

widow clicquot

The story behind the founding of one of the world’s foremost champagne houses is a curious mix of individual personality, international business, and French society.  The story centers on one Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, the famous widow of Reims, and is told in Tilar Mazzeo’s bestselling book, The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It.

Mazzeo, a professor and self-admitted oenophile, expertly weaves the tale of the widow’s business acumen, professional drive, and competitive nature, not to mention her luck and amazing timing when it came to European geopolitics and the fluid nature of the early champagne market.  All this creates a rich fabric of the widow and her times.  Amidst these themes are nestled captive descriptions of French country estates and dank, ancient wine cellars, as well as informative summaries of the winemaking process and its progress between the 1790s and 1860s.

Simple explanations – such as distinguishing levels of champagne’s dryness or a brief overview of grape varietals (which determine the style of champagne) – might be missed, but for careful reading.  The book’s brevity betrays the wealth of knowledge it offers to the introductory champagne drinker or wine trivia buffs.  One of my favorite quotes, from the prologue: “According to legend, the shallow goblet-style champagne glasses known as coupes were modeled after this lady’s [Madame de Pompadour, mistress to the King of France] much admired breasts.”

Even unexciting topics – the process of fermentation or how champagne’s age affects the bubbles – come alive alongside the overarching story of the widow’s life.  Intertwining the two, historical narration and technical explanations, so effortlessly and seamlessly is one of Mazzeo’s most notable talents.

Yet the widow’s world, so often looked at through grainy and colorless photos, comes bursting alive via the author’s words.  Even in death, Barbe-Nicole is painted in lushly descriptive imagery: “In the last days of July…1866, when the gardens at Boursault were sending forth their intoxicating blooms and the grapes were beginning to grow heavy on the vines that clung to the hillside below the château, the Widow Clicquot breathed her last.”

This book – from vivid settings throughout pre-industrial Europe, early wine-making tutorials, and insight into the “Grand Dame of Champagne’s” ahead-of-her-time management and entrepreneurial methods – is much like champagne itself: a carefully crafted and leisurely savored luxury item.

Published in: on October 22, 2013 at 1:20 pm  Comments Off on Recommende​d Reading: The Widow Clicquot  
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Happy 3rd Birthday, Hip Flask

birthday candle

Three years old – The Hip Flask has officially reached blogging toddlerhood.  Over 200 posts and counting!  So let’s take a moment for a birthday celebration, to fondly look back over the past year.

Much of the last year was indeed spent looking backwards into history: into 1920s era writers and slang; into the history of American brewing; and into books reminiscing about drinking during a simpler time.

I’ve discussed modern topics as well, from workplace drinking (and its fallacy), to globalization, as well as several new beers (domestic and international), and even whisky.

It’s been a great third year for the blog – more of you are reading and subscribing than ever, from both the U.S. and around the world.  And it’s been great fun writing, although my posting frequency is less than I’d like. If only there were more hours in the day.

So what’s on tap in the coming months? Here are a few ideas you’ll likely soon see:

– Some words on Devils Backbone Vienna Lager, including a few nice memories of visiting Vienna some years ago.

– My thoughts on rum on the rocks as a simple, alternative, summer cocktail.

– New Recommended Reading entries, including Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl, by David Wondrich, and The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It, by Tilar Mazzeo.

– A special (non-drinking) piece remarking on two Polish heroes of World War II, based on two books I’ve recently read (but not discussed here).

– The completion of a couple of partially written posts on Krušovice Černé, a dark Czech beer as well as my thoughts on high-efficiency bartending.

– New installments of my recurring series, Booze News and A Drink With…  (Have a favorite celebrity or historical figure – fictional or not – you’d like to see? Let me know with a comment or by email.)

Most importantly, thanks to you all for liking, subscribing, commenting, and generally making The Hip Flask’s third year so enjoyable.  If you like what you read, be sure to tell your friends – maybe they will, too!  The more, the merrier!