Acaba de sair nos Estados Unidos uma biografia sobre a viúva Clicquot e a história do champanhe Veuve Clicquot. O livro foi resenhado na edição do The New York Times de hoje. Esse tipo de livro é bem interessante porque não traz somente a história de um ou outro produto, mas informa sobre um dado momento histórico, tal como os já editados em português pela Jorge Zahar: Vinho e Guerra, O Vinho mais Caro do Mundo, Champanhe, História do Mundo em 6 Copos. Segue a resenha abaixo, enquanto aguardamos a edição em português.
A Kick From Champagne Reviewed by JANE and MICHAEL STERN Published: December 25, 2008
“The Widow Clicquot,” Tilar J. Mazzeo’s sweeping oenobiography of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, is the story of a woman who was a smashing success long before anyone conceptualized the glass ceiling. Her destiny was formed in the wake of the French Revolution when, Mazzeo suggests, “modern society — with its emphasis on commerce and the freedom of the individual — was invented.” Barbe-Nicole, daughter of a successful textile maker turned Jacobin, is portrayed as someone whose way of doing business helped define the next century.
Fate cursed or blessed her with the mantle of early widowhood. Her husband, a winemaker from whom she learned the craft, died when she was 27, leaving her a single mother — the veuve (widow) Clicquot. Officially, the cause of François Clicquot’s death was typhoid, which was then commonly treated by feeding the patient Champagne, believed to strengthen the body against what was known as malignant fever. “To think that a bottle of his own sparkling wine might have saved François!” Mazzeo writes, going on to speculate that it is also possible he killed himself because business wasn’t good.
Already savvy about winemaking, Barbe-Nicole plunged into a new life. Despite contemporary mores and the Napoleonic Code, which emphasized a woman’s role at home, she was not alone. She saw the success of such wine merchants as the widow Germon, the widow Robert and the widow Blanc, and understood that widows were the “only women granted the social freedom to run their own affairs.” With the gate open, she was off and running with spectacular results.
What a prescient entrepreneur she was, with a business outlook that sounds more 21st century than 19th. Toward the end of her life, in the 1860s, she wrote to a great-grandchild: “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.”
Her audacity was unleashed at the right time. Napoleon’s abdication in 1814 was cause for toasts among both the British and Russians. “Champagne,” Mazzeo writes, “was on its way to becoming another word for mass-culture celebration.” While the war’s naval blockade still paralyzed commercial shipping, Mme. Clicquot conspired to sneak a boat around the armada, delivering 10,000 bottles of high-proof, cork-popping 1811 cuvée Veuve Clicquot to Königsberg, where it sold for the equivalent of $100 per bottle. When the powerhouse 1811 reached St. Petersburg, Czar Alexander declared he would drink nothing else. Within two years the widow Clicquot was “at the helm of an internationally renowned commercial empire — and she was one of the first women in modern history to do it.” People said she had conquered Russia with Champagne; soon, London clubgoers simply asked for a bottle of “the Widow.”
As much about Champagne itself as about the woman who helped elevate it to celebrity status, “The Widow Clicquot” reveals that the wine’s history is as filled with faux folklore as a glass of it is with tiny bubbles. For one thing, Dom Pierre Pérignon did not invent it. The oft-told fable is that Dom Pérignon, the cellar master at the Hautvillers abbey, took a first sip and cried out to his fellow monks: “Come quickly! I am drinking the stars!” A charming tale, but bogus. Mazzeo says that for a decade after 1660, when Dom Pérignon gained fame as a master blender, he steadfastly worked at ways to prevent wine from developing bubbles. “In the 17th century,” she reports, “winemakers were anything but delighted by the voluntary sparkle that developed in their casks come spring.” Champagne did not even originate in France. While Dom Pérignon was struggling to stamp out bubbles, British oenophiles already were drinking sparkling wine made from Champagne grapes. Why? Customers rich enough to buy whole barrels realized they had to do something to keep their prize from turning to vinegar. They put still wine from Champagne into sturdy British bottles, sometimes with a little brandy to act as a preservative. At some point, somebody realized that sugar bottled with the wine would start a secondary fermentation, creating Champagne. Bubbly was not invented; it was discovered by accident.
At its beginning, Champagne scarcely resembled the dry, fine-fizzed champers we know today. Whereas a modern demi sec might contain 20 grams of sugar per bottle, the Champagne of Mme. Clicquot’s time held 10 or 15 times that much and was served as icy as a Slurpee. Nor did the original stuff have elegant little bubbles to tickle your nose. Veuve Clicquot customers complained about bubbles so big and gassy that they left the wine topped with a beery foam. Madame Clicquot disparagingly called the unwelcome froth “toad’s eyes,” and was determined to make better bubbles. Although she was head of the company, her devotion to the craft of wine making never wavered; she worked with her cellar master to devise a riddling rack to facilitate remuage, the process by which sediment is drawn from the liquid to the bottle’s neck. Her obsession with creating a beverage as clear as a flawless diamond may well have been her most important achievement. Without it, Mazzeo writes, “Champagne could never have become the world’s most famous wine.”
Jane and Michael Stern are the authors of “Roadfood.”