widow of Clicquot-Ponsardin

Wine of the Comet: Widow Clicquot and Château d’Ichem 1811

In the first chapter of “Eugene Onegin”
there are such lines:

Entered: and the cork in the ceiling,
Comet’s fault spurted current;
Behind him roast-beef bloodied,
And truffles, the luxury of young years,
French cuisine is the best color,
And Strasbourg is an imperishable cake
Between cheese limburgish alive
And pineapple gold.

And in Pushkin’s 1922 message to his friend, the Decembrist Y. Tolstoy meets:
“Pour me a comet’s fault!” 

What is a comet’s wine ?

In his notes to Onegin Pushkin did not consider it necessary to explain this expression – for his contemporaries it was clear and without comment. Everyone knew – it’s about the comet of 1811 and the champagne Widow Clicquot . Mikhail Babinsky reports


This comet and the name is something especially memorable. Comet was previously unknown to astronomers, later she was awarded the catalog number C / 1811 the F . In the people it is simple – Comet of 1811 .

Comet-1811For the first time, in the form of a faint foggy spot in the constellation of Korma, she was seen on the night of March 25 to March 26, 1811 by the astronomer Flagerie, observing the corresponding section of the sky from the town of Viviers (France). April 11, regardless of the flag, it was discovered by the famous “catcher cat” J. Pons, who remains to this day champion in the number of open comets.

The period of circulation of the comet around the sun was calculated, which was 3095 years. That is, its next return should be expected only at the end of the 5th millennium. (And, for example, the period of circulation of the famous Halley comet is only 76 years old, and those who saw it as a child may well expect a second meeting in it and at sunset.)

Comet 1811 was not only the largest, but also the brightest comet of the 19th century. The length of its tail reached 176 million kilometers, if it tells you something. It was available for astronomical observation on January 20, 1812. That is, it was visible for 17 months, or 510 days, including an unaided look of 260 days. Almost a year she could see any person with her own eyes, it’s no wonder that she entered the popular consciousness.

In the sky a comet – in barrels of nectar

In general, the humanity of comets was afraid, associated with their appearance all sorts of misfortunes. But the winemaking comet “influenced” to the exact opposite. It was believed that these heavenly bodies make the wine taste divine. Throughout the history of winemaking, the weather conditions and the exceptionally high quality of wine, ideal for harvest, were attributed to the inexplicable influence of comets. In this sense, the “comet vintage” of 1811 is best known.

Pushkin’s note to the “Message to Y. Tolstoy” says: “There is a belief that the best champagne is obtained from grapes that were born in the year of the appearance of the comet, which is why a comet is also depicted on the inside of the plug.”

The official “St. Petersburg Vedomosti” and the unofficial “Northern Post” were literally overflowing with reports of unusual climatic anomalies of 1811. After an unusually hot and arid summer in central Europe, it was an exceptionally warm autumn. All this caused an extraordinary harvest of grapes, both in abundance of fruits, and in high quality of wine. “The present wine will surpass the kindness of wine of all previous years, not even including 1748,” it was said in correspondence from Württemberg in No. 83 of the Northern Mail.

In other correspondence, “from the banks of Main”, in No. 66 of the Northern Mail, it was said about the expectation of a rare wine, which can only be compared with the harvest of 1540. In the “Library for Reading” in 1843 in the department “New Books” the phrase: “The wines of 1811, commemorated by the appearance of a new comet, are still famous under the name vins de la comète”, and the feuilletonist of the “Northern Bee” (No. 68 of April 27, 1843), discussing the comet as a theme for a satirical article , wrote: “One of the comets, it was the comet of 1811, won immortality on champagne traffic jams, which is much more important than literary criticism and you. Thousands of people who have never heard of literary celebrities and do not know the name of any astronomer are very supportive of comet wine, vin de la comète . “

Scientists sigh

This excitement in the press, of course, could not but arouse the indulgent ridicule of astronomers. In the memoirs of Hegel there is a record of his conversation with the director of the Berlin Observatory, Mr. Bode:

oservatory“Mr. Bode only sighed when I told him that the people believed that after the appearance of the comets followed the harvesting grape years, as it was in 1811 and 1819.” Already this alone, twice the circumstance that has taken place, is as good (if not even better), as well as the circumstance of their return. “

Artists capture

The comet of 1811, of course, was reflected in the works of art, the action of which unfolds during the years of its coming. Naturally, in War and Peace : “At the entrance to the Arbat Square, the vast space of the starry dark sky opened to Pierre’s eyes. Almost in the middle of this sky above Prechistenskiy boulevard, surrounded by sprinkled stars on all sides, but differing from all nearness to the earth, white light and long, uplifted tail, there was a huge bright comet of 1812, the same comet that foreshadowed how they said , all sorts of horrors and the end of the world. “ Sam L. N. Tolstoy could not see the comet of 1811, shining in the sky seventeen years before his birth (1828), in this vivid description reflected his strong childhood impression of Halley’s comet, which he observed in 1835.

And the novel by GP Danilevsky “Burned Moscow” begins like this: “It was the end of May 1812. Despite the recent comet and the alarming and persistent rumors about the likelihood of a break with Napoleon and the possibility of an imminent war, this war was not expected … “

Arthur Conan Doyle in the story “The adventures of the stockbroker”, included in the collection of short stories “Notes on Sherlock Holmes,” puts into the mouth of Dr. Watson the description of Holmes as “a connoisseur who tried his first sip of comet vintage.”

And already in our time, in 1992, the romantic comedy ” Year of the Comet” appeared on the screens of the cinemas , where the main storyline is the pursuit of the most valuable bottle of wine in history – Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 1811.

Winemakers triumph

The comet of 1811 was well visible in the sky for most of the grape season, the weather conditions for most of the wine-growing zones were ideal that year, especially in Europe. I must say that in 1811 there was a whole series of bad years of the early 19th century. The harvest of 1811 was regarded as a return of the debt to winemakers, especially in Bordeaux , Cognac and Champagne .

For the Cognac region, this vintage is considered to be the best in history, and many cognac producers have used stars for many years (stylized image of the “head” of the comet) on their labels as a sign of respect and gratitude to the harvest this year.

In Germany, the vintage of the 1811 was so successful that the winemakers of the Rhine district, for example, labeled their wines as “comet hock” (hock is the general name for German wines, primarily from the Rheingau area . ) It derives from the name a city famous for its wineries, Hochheim am Main, Wiesbaden district, the word came into use after the visit of the British Queen Victoria to the region).

The most authoritative expert in the world on vintages Michael Broadbent in his book “Vintage Wine” assesses the wines of 1811 extremely high. He assigns them such grades in the 5-point system: Bordeaux (red and white) -5, Burgundy (red and white) -5, German wines- 5, Vintage Port -5.

And especially he distinguishes the Tokai wine of the harvest of 1811. Here is how he describes it in his book: “I was sitting with my wife on the bed with glasses in hands on December 31, 1972 and met the New Year. In the glasses were Tokay wine 1811 harvest. The color of the wine was like old amber, but not very bright due to the slowly settling sediment, which is quite heavy in old Tokaj wine (therefore bottles with this wine are always kept standing). The aroma and taste of this wine was not from this world. It was the only wine I’ve ever tried in my entire life that did not have a finish. The aftertaste continued and continued. ” Broadbent attributed this wine to 6 stars (!), With the 5-star scale used by him.

Widow of Clicquot 1811

The historic moment was not missed by one of the most enterprising women of her time – the widow of Clicquot-Ponsardin . Even before the embargo on trade supplies from France to Russia (during the war with Napoleon) was canceled, she decided to secretly equip Russia with a ship “Good intentions” with 10,000 bottles of fine wine from Champagne. Bottles of this export party widow Clicquot was covered with small labels with the inscription “Vin de Bouzy, 1811, de la Comete” (“Wine from Buzi, 1811, the Year of the Comet”) – and crowned them with her monogram.

veuve-clicquotClicquot’s representative in Eastern Europe wrote to her that those who drank her 1811 crop champagne very soon found themselves lying under the table. The wine of this year was not only exceptional, but also strong. Sugar-rich grapes of fine harvest helped create a strong alcoholic wine with good foaming properties, thanks to which the corks flew from the bottles with a particularly loud clap. Nature this year has created everything necessary to make an exceptional drink.

It is believed that vintage Veuve Clicquot 1811 has been a truly “modern” champagne of innovation in the technology of its production, and in particular the use of invented Clicquot technology riddling – way of getting rid of sparkling wine from the sediment, since a long time, there was the problem of how to deliver the champagne from layer of dead yeast cells, which created a negative appearance of the wine and had an unpleasant taste, without loss of gas.

Château d’Ichem 1811

The comet vintage of 1811 became a starry one for the most famous of the Bordeaux soterns, the Château d’ Icheme .

On April 22, 2008, the London wine company Fine Rare Wines Ltd sold the Chateau d’Yquem bottle in 1811 for a record price of 75,800 dollars to the New York-based Cellarworks company specializing in the design of wine cellars.

Here’s how the character of Chateau Yquem (1811) is described by Michael Broadbent and another wine guru – Robert Parker .

Michael Broadbent: “I first tried wine in Chateau Ikem in 1986. A hand-made bottle labeled “Chateau Yquem, Marquis AM de Lur Saluces, 1811, Grand Vin Sauternes”. (“Chateau Ikem, Marquis de Lure Salus (this household belongs to since 1785), the main wine of the chateau, Sauternes). Blackened cork, good color, still sweet. The second time I tried after 9 years at the famous 16th annual tasting of rare wines, organized by the German collector Hardy Rodenshtock. Streaked label, golden color, well-distinguishable colors of apricot, sugar and strong acidity. Long dry finish. The overall rating is 4 stars. “

Robert Parker: “I believe that Ikem had two outstanding crops that I was lucky to try – 1811 and 1847. Both specimens were oily, thick, extraordinarily complex with dominance in the taste and aroma of magnificent botrytic and honey fruit tones. The wine of 1811 had a dark golden color, divine density, sweetness of flavor, unusual taste extracts and finish, which lasted more than a minute – this is exactly the wine on which the reputation of the farm stands. It was a liquid cream-brule. And remember, it was a vintage “comet year”. And this despite the fact that the fault at that time was already 184 years. 100 points. “ (Parker tried this wine at the same Rodenstock degustation).

Wine Spectator also rated this wine in 100 points.


It does not matter that there is really no dependence between the comet and the harvest. We are just people – emotional, superstitious, believe in miracles and the influence of stars on destiny. By the movement of Uranus in orbit, we explain the failures in our personal lives, and we attribute the rise of Mars to the onset of the war. The comets in our country foreshow both terrible floods and incendiary droughts. Why not at the same time explain the comet and good vintage? Moreover, when the appearance of a comet in the sky coincides with a good harvest – we easily remember it, and when the harvest is not so splendid, connections with the comet may not be noticed. Human memory is selective.

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