E. and I have a ritual that we’ve hammered into being over the past few months of travel. Whenever we arrive at a new hotel, we order a glass of Champagne (or, if we’re really feeling exhausted/celebratory: a whole bottle of Champagne). 9 times out of 10, the Champagne we spring for is Veuve Clicquot.
Veuve Clicquot has a special place in my heart because of its polo associations: it puts on the yearly Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic at Will Rogers State Park in LA in the fall, as well as NYC’s annual springtime VC Polo Classic on Liberty State Park. Both events are social calendar highlights, and a few years back, Prince Harry even made an appearance in New York.
But let’s forget celebrities and pretty horses. At the end of the day, I adore Veuve Clicquot for one main reason: because it’s delicious.
In France, E. and I decided a trip outside Paris to go Champagne tasting was a must, so after checking into Chateau les Crayeres, we hoofed it down a country lane to Veuve Clicquot, only a three minute walk away.
It was like Disneyland for Champagne.
Barbe Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin: the Widow Clicquot
Veuve Clicquot offers a variety of by-appointment-only tours at their house in Reims (45 minutes outside Paris), including an hour-long tour of the several-hundred-years-old chalk quarry caves (the “crayeres“) where the bottles have been stored for years. Our tour began with a primer on the history of Veuve Clicquot, which was founded in 1772 (making it older than the United States!) and bubbled into dominance in 1805 when the Widow Clicquot–Barbe Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin–grabbed the reigns at the age of 27 and refocused the family business solely on Champagne for the wealthy, noble and royal. (The word “Veuve” means “Widow”, as you might remember from 8th grade French. It’s pronounced like “love,” not “move.”)
Veuve Clicquot enjoys a place of prominence among champagnes: they created the first Vintage Champagne (with grapes all from the same year), and invented the riddling table (to produce clear, sediment-free liquid). We learned on the tour that Champagne is made from three different types of grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. (I’d never heard of Pinot Meunier, which is apparently extremely common yet publicly obscure since it’s basically just a background blending grape.)
One of the most popular misconceptions about Champagne is that it’s simply bubbly. In fact, only sparkling wines produced from grapes grown specifically in the Champagne region following Champagne appellation law are allowed to be called Champagne. So, if it comes from Australia, Germany, California, Italy, etc, etc, it might be delicious, but it’s not Champagne! We also learned the best way to pour champagne: tilt the glass and pour a small amount down the side, let sit for a second, and then slowly complete the pour. This preserves the carbon dioxide essential to the bubbles.
After we toured the crayeres, we returned to the tasting room, where our reward was waiting: a delicious, chilled, bubbly glass of Veuve Clicquot. Yes, please!