Thursday, October 24, 2013
Madame Clicquot and her great-grandaughter (1861)
Champagne, the perfect apéritif, conjures up images of France, but Parisians don’t save their favorite sparkling wine for special occasions. There is hardly a bar in Paris where you will not see someone enjoying a Kir Royale before dinner. Classic recipe: champagne plus 1 tablespoon black currant liqueur (crème de cassis); when ordering a kir royale, waiters in France now normally ask whether you want it made with crème de cassis (black currant), de mûre (blackberry) or de pèche (peach).
Madame Clicquot was a woman who, years before it was fashionable for females to be successful in the business world, accomplished just that by tackling her late husband’s numerous mercenary affairs. She devoted extraordinary efforts to their champagne business, making Veuve-Clicquot one of the premier champagnes in the world (veuve is the French word for widow).
She presented Napoleon’s soldiers with some of her bubbly in return for the safety of her property (an alcoholic bribe!). Offering soldiers on horses bottles of her champagne and glasses to drink it from, she was astonished to see them toss the glasses to the ground, draw their sabres to cut off the cork and neck, then drink it right from the bottle.
The method of opening a champagne bottle by cutting the top off – cork and all – with a saber or knife is known as sabrage (“sabering” in English). It takes a little practice, and failures are expensive.