Archive for January, 2016

Book review: The Widow Clicquot

January 29th, 2016

Book review: The Widow Clicquot by Tilar Mazzeo

By Joseph Temple

With a bright and distinctive label that catches your eye immediately, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin is world-renowned for producing some of the finest bubbles on earth. Founded in 1772, it would take more than forty grueling years before its legacy became etched in stone as the preferred champagne house of kings and queens following a legendary ‘Comet vintage’ in 1811. Surviving both crippling trade barriers and a Russian army occupying its terroir, one woman bravely stood at the helm during this uncertain era and would eventually lead her company to unparalleled prosperity. Her name was Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, a grieving widow that went on to become one of the most successful businesswomen in history.

That is the subject of The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It by historian Tilar J. Mazzeo. Published in 2008, the author paints a fascinating picture of both Ponsardin and the ordeals she went through in order to make her massive fortune. After the death of husband François Clicquot, Barbe-Nicole was allowed to freely pursue her passion for winemaking, a right that few French women in the early nineteenth century enjoyed. “Under the laws of the Napoleonic Code, a married businesswoman had a shadowy legal existence,” writes Mazzeo. “According to statute, a woman entrepreneur could not defend even a simple contract without her husband’s permission. But as a widow—and especially as a recognized public trader—Barbe-Nicole could make her own decisions.”

But as head of a champagne house during the First French Empire, Ponsardin was held hostage to the wars being waged by Napoleon Bonaparte. With a blockade imposed by the powerful British Navy on French exports and a mercantile system at home, finding new markets for Veuve Clicquot champagne became almost next to impossible in this harsh economic climate. Having to find creative ways, both legal and illegal to ship her wine, Barbe-Nicole decided to roll the dice with a move that would either make or break her. Entrepreneurs who understand the enormous risks that need to be taken in order to strike it rich will definitely enjoy the chapters dealing with Ponsardin’s challenges and her eventual triumph.

Madame Clicquot
Madame Clicquot Ponsardin

Additionally, one of the book’s greatest strengths is the dichotomy shown during that time and the present. While today we take trade and commerce that is largely uninterrupted for granted, Ponsardin and her fellow champagne makers were at the mercy of blockades—shipping their product as contraband was sometimes the only option. And being occupied by a foreign power is something few vintners today will have to go through.

To her credit, Ponsardin didn’t see Russian soldiers so much as invaders but as future customers. Bringing back their thirst for bubbly, Veuve Clicquot used that buzz to dominate the lucrative markets in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, which may come as a surprise to many who have viewed Britain and France as the two historic hotspots for champagne. Describing this Russian frenzy, Mazzeo writes: “Those same aristocratic officers who had come to love her wine during the occupation of Reims were now prepared to buy her champagne at any price. Soon, Czar Alexander declared that he would drink nothing else. Everywhere one heard the name of the Widow Clicquot and praises for her divine champagne.”

Keeping Veuve Clicquot one-step ahead of the competition, Ponsardin created the system known as riddling or remuage, where the bottles are turned periodically in order to move the sediment towards the cork. Again, Mazzeo provides us with great context in showing the stark differences in how champagne was made back then and how it’s made today. Dealing with mostly sweet tasting vintages packaged in uneven sized bottles that could easily explode in your hands, winemaking was truly a labor of love where none of the scientific advances that the Champenois enjoy today were at Ponsardin’s disposal. Although the technique of riddling is still with us after two hundred years, comparing the past to the present seems almost like night and day.

Whether your interest is in viticulture, history, marketing or economics, there is something for everyone in The Widow Clicquot. By focusing on this amazing story full of twists and turns that is meticulously researched, Mazzeo makes sure that the next time you see that famous yellow-orange label at the next soiree, you’ll have an arsenal of anecdotes to impress your friends as you sip this famous champagne!


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Ask Sid: Wine for Chinese New Year Dinner?

January 27th, 2016
Ask your question here The International Wine & Food Society

Ask Sid: Wine for Chinese New Year Dinner

Question: Want to serve a fun wine for the Chinese New Year on February 8 and would appreciate any recommendation you can make Sid.

Answer: Great idea to have something festive and to match well with Chinese food. Recommend from the Okanagan the Haywire 2016 Lunar New Year White $18.90 (gewurz & chardonnay with a touch of viognier and pinot gris showing floral spices) and 2016 Lunar New Year Red $19.90 (gamay & syrah shows juicy peppery fruit). Wonderfully designed symbol in red and gold colours with the symbol appropriately celebrating The Year of the Monkey! Great bottle shot at http://bit.ly/1OXlhBr to check out. Order through website www.okanagancrushpad.com or at http://bit.ly/1PR3A6k. Gung Hay Fat Choy!


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Surprising Old White Burgundy – 1957 Batard-Montrachet Doudet-Naudin

January 25th, 2016

Surprising Old White Burgundy - 1957 Batard-Montrachet Doudet-Naudin

We all know that wine can age. However we usually think in terms of reds, vintage port, Madeira, sweet whites and the like. Certainly there are some dry whites out there that seem to age forever – Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon is one good example. You don’t hear much these days about old aged white Burgundy. In fact you now hear the opposite buzz that it is safer to drink them earlier on. Chardonnay can age well particularly from Burgundy pre the mid-90s before those worrisome pre-mox issues first arose.

At a recent Burgundy event there were several treasures contributed including a quintessential biodynamic red Burgundy 1999 Nuits-Saint-Georges “Les Pruliers” 1er Cru from Etienne Grivot showing that magical complexity of power with finesse and intensely delicate. Another star was my interesting bottle of white Burgundy now nearly 60 years old the 1957 Batard-Montrachet from Maison M. Doudet-Naudin. Fortunate to taste with Yves Doudet of Domaine Doudet-Naudin in Savigny-les-Beaune several times during the late 80s where they had so many ancient bottles covered in mold lying peacefully in their very cold cellar. On one such visit at an extensive old white wine tasting I was impressed with the acidity fruit balance shown in their Grand Cru Batard from 1957. Eventually I acquired some bottles in 1991 which were recorked at that time before being shipped to me in Vancouver. Vintage 1957 was described by Michael Broadbent as “Quite good, firm, rather acidic but flavoury wines” and Clive Coates in 1997 when the wine was only 40 years old said 57 whites “are good but now past it”. Surprising to all at this recent tasting that this bottle showed a lovely lemony zest with a layer of almost sweet very nutty walnut-like flavours. Mature yes but not oxidized with only just a little touch of maderization complexity and not clearly past it. Delicious. There are old white Burgundies out there usually at great value particularly in many of the old cellars in Burgundy or at auction. Keep an open mind about them and you too might experience a rare treasure of history.

Have you tried any very old white Burgundy?


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When the sherry cobbler reigned supreme

January 22nd, 2016

When the sherry cobbler reigned supreme

By Joseph Temple

In the spring of 1867, French emperor Napoleon III offered a warm welcome to dignitaries arriving from around the world to witness the Exposition Universelle. Held at the picturesque Champ de Mars over a period of eight months, enthusiastic Parisians of the Second French Empire gladly followed suit by embracing the nearly seven million visitors who travelled to a city that was modernizing at a rapid pace. And of the over fifty thousand exhibitors who set up shop, one group of Americans simply dazzled French citizens with a drink so unique that it spread like wildfire.

It was called a Sherry Cobbler.

A simple recipe consisting of sugar, muddled citrus and Spanish fortified wine, it became so popular that the U.S. delegation went through approximately five hundred bottles of sherry a day in order to serve up this concoction to a mostly French clientele. Of course, British visitors knew all about the drink after reading the serialized novel The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens. After the main character describes the cocktail in glowing terms, its popularity soared throughout England, surprising another famous author Mark Twain. “And it warmed my heart more than, I can tell, yesterday, when I witnessed the spectacles of an Englishman, ordering an American sherry cobbler of his own free will and accord,” described Twain. “With a common origin, a common language, a common literature, a common religion, and—common drinks, what is longer needful to the cementing of the two nations together in a permanent bond of brotherhood?”

Sherry Cobbler recipe
Recipe for a Sherry Cobbler from How to Mix Drinks by Jerry Thomas.

Invented sometime during the 1820s or 1830s, the Sherry Cobbler quickly democratized America’s drinking habits, being consumed by a wide cross-section of the country. Listed in his now-famous 1862 book How to Mix Drinks, bartender Jerry Thomas writes that while the cobbler “does not require much skill in compounding … to make it acceptable to the eye, as well as to the palate, it is necessary to display some taste in ornamenting the glass after the beverage is made.” Garnishing it with berries certainly didn’t hurt its popularity but two essential elements that made it so trendy was shaking it with crushed ice—and topping it off with … a drinking straw.

Today, we see nothing special about adding ice to a drink, but in the early nineteenth century, before the commercial ice trade and mass refrigeration, frozen water was described by Mark Twain as “jewelry, none but the rich could wear it.” Being such a novelty, it soon transcended classes. And being the first drink to popularize the straw, everyone from the upper class sherry drinker to the young college student could be seen sipping his or her ice-cold cobbler with this strange new device. What bartending legend Harry “The Dean” Johnson described as “without doubt the most popular beverage in the country” had bridged the gap between tavern and restaurant as the century came to a close.

So if you’re looking to indulge yourself in a sweet slice of American nostalgia, have a look at the recipe below to make your very own Sherry Cobbler and party like it’s 1839!

Sources:

Baiocchi, Talia. A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret, with Cocktails and Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2014.
Beazley, Mitchell. GQ Drinks. Octopus, 2014.
Twain, Mark. Mark Twain’s Speeches: Easyread Super Large 18pt Edition. Sydney: ReadHowYouWant.com, 2008.


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Ask Sid: How long will Château Haut Brion 1985 last?

January 20th, 2016
Ask your question here The International Wine & Food Society

Ask Sid: How long will Château Haut Brion 1985 last?
By Henry Salomé (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Question: We have a bottle of Château Haut Brion, 1985, Graves, Red Bordeaux Wine. When is the latest that it should be consumed?

Answer: What a treasure you have there! 1985 Bordeaux are underrated generally because they were so delicious right out of the gate and concerns were expressed that they would not last. Haut-Brion is a star in every vintage because of their unique special terroir providing wines with outstanding balance. Robert Parker in his Bordeaux book 4th edition (2003) gave your 1985 a solid 95 score and his stated “Anticipated maturity: now – 2012” but it will last a lot longer. Now at 30 years of age where well stored it still should be on a fantastic plateau of elegant charming enjoyment. I tried a bottle of 1985 Haut-Brion in 2015 that was mature but a pure stylish delight. Best vintages of Haut-Brion surprise you as they seem to go on forever. Last year at the Château I tried the 1945 (granted a fantastic concentrated vintage) that was still amazingly complex yet fresh and it is 40 years older than your 1985! Wonderful to drink the 1985 now but it will last at least several decades more. Impossible to give you a specific definite ending date. Another alternative you always have is to auction it off with current prices in the $400 US range and continuing to go up. Enjoy!


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