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Only One Quality, the Finest

The history of Veuve Clicquot and Moët & Chandon champagne

 

By Elizabeth Scinta

 

The month of May is traditionally one of celebration, with graduations, the start of warmer weather and when most new homes are put on the market and purchased, and what goes better with a celebration than champagne? For an in-depth look at what makes this sparkling beverage so special, we spoke with Angela Sauvé, the brand education manager at Moët Hennessy North America, to learn more about two of the most prestigious champagne houses in the world, Veuve Clicquot and Moët & Chandon, who shared the history of these bubbling beverages and what makes them so unique.

Angela Sauvé. Photo by MirMir Studio.

According to Madame Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot, “The world is in perpetual motion and we must invent the things of tomorrow. One must go before others, be determined and exacting and let your intelligence direct your life. Act with audacity,” explained Sauvé. Madame Clicquot stayed true to those words in every facet of her life and especially in her business. She entered an arranged marriage to François Clicquot in 1798 when she was 21-years-old and he owned a wine business. Six years after their marriage, Mr. Clicquot unexpectedly passed away, leaving behind his widowed wife and daughter at a time in France when women were considered property of their husbands. 

Madame Clicquot was now the “property” of her father-in-law, and she had to decide if she wanted to remarry or remain a widow. According to the Napoleonic codes of that time, a woman could only run a business if she was widowed, and the next male in her family granted the company’s ownership to her, according to Sauvé. Madame Clicquot chose to remain a widow as they were given special legal leeway and special privileges and asked her father-in-law if she could take over the family wine business. “The Napoleonic codes mandated that if a woman was allowed to run a business, that business had to add the word ‘veuve’ (which means widow in French) in front of the name to show that it was legitimate. In 1805, Madame Clicquot took over the reins of the House and on July 31, 1810, the winery’s name was officially changed to Veuve Clicquot. She overcame some pretty incredible challenges; embargos, wars, competition from all the male-owned businesses in the area and difficult harvests, yet she seized her destiny and became one of the very first modern businesswomen in history,” explained Sauvé.

The modern champagne that we know and love would not be what it is today without Madame Clicquot’s three significant innovations.“The first came in 1810 when she invented the first ever vintage champagne. When you see champagne with a year on the label, that is because of Madame Clicquot. In 1816, she invented a device called a riddling table which is still used today and how we get crystal clear champagne by removing the yeast settlement. When you look at a glass of champagne and you can see the sparkle, that’s thanks to her innovation,” said Sauvé. “In 1818, she created the way with which we blend rosé champagne and it’s how rosé champagne is crafted today. She blended together some of her beloved pinot noir red wines with her still white wines and created this method of blending before bottling which prior to that was not used.” Madame Clicquot was said to have worked to her dying day, and she lived to be 89-years-old. The audacity previously mentioned is the secret to how Madame Clicquot conquered the world with her champagne. 

“Veuve Clicquot is America’s favorite champagne and it’s uniquely driven by Madame Cliquot’s motto which was ‘Only one quality, the finest.’ Today, ‘Only one quality, the finest’ is perpetuated in Veuve Clicquot’s rich pinot noir driven style,” explained Sauvé. Veuve Clicquot gets their grapes from the best vineyards in Champagne, France. Fun fact, Veuve Clicquot uses a high percentage of reserve wines in its champagne. Reserve wines are wines that are held back from previous years, according to Sauvé; they help the champagne be mature and complex. “For example, the Yellow Label that we know and love is 45% reserve wine. The reserve wines range in age from two to 15-years-old. When you take a sip of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, it’s complex, rich, gorgeous and I like to say it’s every bit as audacious as Madame Clicquot herself,” exclaimed Sauvé.

The yellow label of Veuve Clicquot matures for three years, longer than required, in underground chalk cellars, dug by the Romans. Sauvé loves to pair Veuve Clicquot with truffle popcorn or her personal favorite, fried chicken! “Champagne is the ultimate food pairing wine. You see, champagne has four of the five key flavors. You get acid from chardonnay, bitter from pinot noir and meunier, umami from that long maturation on the lees which happens naturally inside the bottle and a slight sweetness from the dosage in champagne, which is when we add a touch of sweetness for balance right before corking. The fifth flavor that you need for perfect harmony is salt. Anything salty or fatty will pair perfectly with champagne. Also, bubbles are the perfect palate cleanser, they’re like little scrubbing bubbles that refresh your taste buds after every sip,” explained Sauvé.

Moët & Chandon, another widely known and prestigious champagne, was established in 1743 by Claude Moët in Champagne, France. He turned a small family business into an empire that to this day reigns supreme, according to Sauvé. Within five years of establishing Moët & Chandon, it was the royal court’s official drink in France. Within 15 years, Moët was being shipped to the royal courts of Europe and Russia, according to Sauvé. “Moët in its founding has been the beverage of choice for toasting moments of celebration and awards. We say that the cork of a bottle of Moët & Chandon pops every second. In addition to being the champagne of success and glamour, Moët & Chandon are innovators and pioneers in the Champagne region,” explained Sauvé. In 2010, they were the first company to create a champagne that could be served on ice: Moët Impérial. They also created the champagne vending machine; yes, it’s a real thing.

Moët & Chandon represents the Champagne region in a glass. It combines chardonnay, pinot noir and meunier to achieve a bright fruitiness, seductive palate and elegant maturity. Moët & Chandon has the largest champagne estate in the region, and they’re also the leading buyer of Champagne grapes. This allows them exclusive access to 90% of the Champagne grapes in the region. “Just like with all champagnes, the bubbles are created naturally inside of each and every bottle,” said Sauvé. “For Moët & Chandon Imperial, it takes two years for that natural effervescence to develop. The champagne method happens for Moët inside Moët’s aging cellars that are the largest in Champagne, they run for 17 miles!” Sauvé likes to pair Moët Imperial with sushi, a greek salad and her favorite pairing is with pepperoni pizza.

Sauvé left us with a few champagne tips so that we can properly drink and enjoy the bubbles: 

• When opening a bottle of champagne, make sure to twist the bottle, not the cork, to open.

• She recommends trying champagne in a white wine glass. Because your sense of taste is directly linked to your sense of smell, if you smell your bubbly before you taste it, it enhances your ability to enjoy all of the aromas and flavors by over 50%. A white wine glass has a wider rim than a flute which allows you to stick your nose in while you’re sipping and it will be a much more enjoyable experience. 

• Always have a good toast in your back pocket. One of her favorite ones that has been a hit all year is, “May all your troubles turn into bubbles, cheers!” It’s an easy one, it makes everyone smile and you can’t go wrong with it.