Queen of Champagne, This Widow Had it Going On

I’d like to think I know Fabulous when I see it.  Regardless as to whether that’s completely true, or mostly a result of the bubbly in my hand, I’d call the Widow Clicquot, known affectionately as Barbe-Nicole, (that snazzy lady who made Veuve Clicquot champagne an icon of luxury and style) F*cking Fabulous.

In The Widow Clicquot, Tilar Mazzeo tells the story of this hard-headed widow who refused the silent–though often glamourous–life of aristocracy for an exciting one full of bubbly wine and foreign markets donning black (read: chic) widow’s robes from the age of 27.

The novel has a slow start–we’re talking about pre-revolutionary France after all–but gets off to a good pace after the first 20 pages or so, detailing the widow’s almost disastrous rise to fame through risk-taking and law-breaking during France’s first 3 regimes.

Born into a rich textile family, it’s no wonder this widow had style and sense from the get-go. Her father was a political climber, whose leanings changed with whichever regime was in power (or whichever would keep him away from the guillotine) and Barbe Nicole no doubt picked up on his savviness.

Together with her husband who died of typhoid (or possible suicide) just a few years after their marriage, Veuve Clicquot champagne was invented. For years the business faltered as Barbie failed to get her sickly-sweet champagne into Russian and English markets, through naval blockades, heat waves and every sort of rebellion.

Little did she know, that within a few years English gentlemen and Russian czars would be refusing to drink anything else, and referring to her wines soley as “the widow.” That’s worth popping at least a few bottles in my book.

The Widow Clicquot Uncorked:

Laura Loves: Reading about champagne and drinking anything with bubbles.

This piece from the New York Times about champagne’s greatest heiress.

Fun Facts: Much to the embarassment of La Grande Dame, her son-in-law published several editions of erotic poetry.

In the Oxford English Dictionary, one of the definitions for ‘widow’ is still champagne.

Read it if: You like interesting historically-based books or love female entrepreneurs who challenge the status quo–that’s Barbe-Nicole in a nutshell.


  • August 20, 2012
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