Wednesday 21 March 2018

The ladies of champagne

Champagne is the perfect way to celebrate any of life's achievements
Champagne is the perfect way to celebrate any of life's achievements

Corinna Hardgrave

With Ladies' Day at both the Galway Races and the Dublin Horse Show fast approaching, not only is it time to splurge on hats and heels, but it seems only right to stop for a minute and ponder the totally first world problem of what bubbly should I be drinking in 2017?

If you're looking for permission to trade up and splash out on some more expensive fizz, the Government, it would appear, thinks that Champagne is the bubbly du jour as it has added it to the basket of items used to calculate the rate of inflation in Ireland. So, looks like it's official - when it comes to celebrating, we should make it Champagne, guaranteed to get everyone in a sunny mood. It would be rude not to.

Of course Champagne is not just for the races, it is the perfect way to celebrate any of life's achievements big and small, and with bottles starting at €20 and going to four-digit prices, there is quite literally one for every occasion. Lily Bollinger put it wonderfully when she mused: "I drink it when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and I drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it, unless I'm thirsty." It, of course, does help when you run your own Champagne house, but the sad bit is, Lily inherited it when her husband Jacques died in 1941.

In fact, many of the Champagne houses have been run by widows, including Pommery, Roederer, Perrier and perhaps most famous of all Veuve Clicquot. Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin was the first woman to enter the Champagne business when she took over at 27, following the death of her husband in 1805. She modernised the production process by devising a method called 'riddling' for clarifying Champagne, then established her Champagne as the tipple of choice in royal courts around Europe, and finally renamed the house Veuve Clicquot, 'veuve' meaning 'widow'.

Louise Pommery, another widow, who took over the business when her husband died in 1860, was responsible for inventing the 'brut' style of Champagne which she developed in 1874. It was quite revolutionary, as previous to that, Champagne had always been sweet or demi-sec. Although sceptics were initially slow to change to it, the Pommery style, which was seen to be elegant, soon became known as "full of finesse and cheery lightness". The word 'brut' loosely translates as 'raw' indicating that the wine is bottled in its natural, raw state; in the case of Champagne, without a significant addition of sweetness (dosage).

In practice, almost all brut Champagnes do receive a small dosage prior to final bottling as it balances the acidity but still keeps the Champagne at a dry level. However, there has been a more recent trend towards low or non-dosage styles such as Extra Brut or Brut Zero but be warned, they are bone dry and can be a little austere on the palate.

More recently, the role of young widow unexpectedly running a Champagne house was thrust upon Carol Duval-Leroy when her husband died at the age of 41 in 1991. As a Belgian native with three young children, many in the business expected her to sell, but the house remains in the family as it has been since it was established in 1859, and is one of the few remaining family-owned houses in the Champagne region. This Champagne is characterised by a particularly fine bubble and as it is one of the Relais Chateau Champagnes, you will find it in The Cliff Townhouse in Dublin and The Cliff House Hotel in Waterford.

So, for Ladies' Day, and any other day, à votre santé, raise a toast to the great ladies of Champagne.


The Wine Spectator Awards are up there with the biggest gongs in the wine world, and for the third year running, ely wine bar has picked up the Wine Spectator's 2017 Award of Excellence and ely bar & brasserie also joined the ranks and picked up its first Award of Excellence. With 500 wines by the bottle, 80 by the glass a good selection of craft beers, whiskies, gin, and great cocktail list, it's also worth remembering that every Friday and Saturday after 10pm in Ely Place, you can enjoy any bottle of Champagne with 40% off.

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