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Posts tagged ‘Champagne’

Finding the Perfect Match Beyond Champagne & Oysters



Finding the Perfect Match Beyond Champagne & Oysters

© The Collection-http://www.wine-searcher.com

In this excerpt from his new book, “The Scent of Champagne,” Richard Juhlin addresses the thorny issue of pairing Champagne with food.



“Champagne today is the best wine to pair with food created by the world’s leading gourmet restaurants. No other wine can so perfectly accompany and accentuate the subtle nuances that the multifaceted dishes made from locally produced delicacies have. In France, they unfortunately usually drink champagne for dessert, whereas the rest of the world drinks it as an aperitif. Admittedly, champagne is the perfect aperitif, with its mouth-watering acidity and fast-acting, refreshing effect, but with the right foods, one can get even more out of their drinking experience. 

The right balance of food and drink

When it comes to pairing food and wine, the old rule is that the heavier and stronger the dish, the heavier and fuller the wine should be, and vice versa.

Whichever way you choose to compose your meal, it is important to consider the balance between food and drink. It can be achieved so that the wine adds something that the food lacks, or by choosing a wine with similar flavors that are already found in the food. A wild game dish, for example, can be complemented by champagne’s animal tones, or a nutty caviar dish with an equally nutty champagne.

The aroma’s significance is usually forgotten when wine and food are paired. The wine’s combination with umami can often be negative, with a metallic and bitter flavor. This is avoided primarily by creating taste bridges by adding any suitable ingredients that neutralize the effect. Salt and acid are often useful ingredients in these flavor bridges.

Today’s fashion is entirely based on creating harmony between food and wine, so that no flavors are arguing with each other. I think, however, that I have noticed that many fine wines lose in definition and purity when combined with food in this way.

According to these principles, if I bought a Billecart-Salmon Cuvée NF [Nicolas François],the wine would balance with a dish rich in acidity and salt, and I would get a nice and smooth harmonic taste in the mouth, but the small nuanced tones of the vintage made by the producer would be smoothed out. It is similar to the way you work in the music studio world, which I previously did. It is popular to treat the sound image with a compressor and cut off all the tops and bottoms for a polished, impersonal, and slightly flattened sound. Personally, I am much more careful that my food does not have an overabundance of any of the basic tastes that otherwise would numb my taste buds. I always start with the wine and choose a gentle dish as a companion. 


Finding the Perfect Match Beyond Champagne & Oysters

© Skyhorse Publishing/Greg Gorman

What to avoid combining with Champagne

What are the wine’s worst enemies? The most critical ingredients are vinegar, raw onions, citrus, tropical fruits, grapes, lingonberries, sorrel, artichoke, Jerusalem artichoke, rhubarb, and fiery spices. Although these conflicts can be balanced when cooked right, flavor bridges and wine selection can circumvent the problems.

Eggs are interesting because they are not only rich in umami and sulfur, but also have such a fatty texture that the taste buds get covered and prevent you from tasting the wine. The fun part is that the high acidity in champagne neutralizes the sulfur, and the mousse cleans the tongue, so that even the raw egg yolk and champagne can be a good contrasting marriage. Bacon and eggs is my most common budget-tight suggestion with non-vintage champagne.

Many believe that you can drink champagne with all kinds of food, and it does not fit any better with a particular dish. It is true that champagne fits with most types of food, but the wine can also be elevated to heavenly heights in combination with the right dishes. The bubbles and the acidity cut like a knife through cream or butter sauces, purées, eggs, and other greasy, mild dishes. Vegetable dishes, fish, and shellfish are lifted by the elegant champagne, and the beverage in other cases can refresh the mouth after stronger flavors.

But you should beware of dishes with too much acidity. Citrus fruits with champagne or strong vinaigrette sauces give an acidic overall impression, and hot spicy dishes can be devastating for most wines.

Classic combinations

Sure, you can combine champagne with relatively simple and cheap meals, but I think you can treat yourself with more fancy food on the occasions when you open a bottle of champagne. Oysters and champagne are, of course, a classic as well as champagne with Russian or Iranian caviar. However, it is important to choose a young, dry, and light Chardonnay-based champagne to withstand the salty sea flavor. Oysters have a milder taste if they are baked in the oven and come with a cream sauce or mild cheese. All shellfish except crab and shrimp go well with champagne, but the question is whether or not scallops or lobster with champagne is the best combination.

Salmon and flat fish with white wine sauce and middle-aged cuvée champagne is another successful gastronomic marriage. The sauces that are to meet champagne should be made with light broths, especially fish stock or chicken stock that are either assembled or cooked with butter, crème fraîche, or cream.

Mushrooms – and more preferably truffles – taste wonderful together with a pinot-based champagne characterized by gentle animal and vegetal notes. Asparagus is generally considered to be difficult to bring together with wine, but champagne is a great exception. Asparagus with Hollandaise sauce or Parmesan accompanied by delicate cuvée champagne can be like drinking spring. The timid flavors of Japanese cuisine are very well suited for the bubbling beverage, but beware of Asian dishes containing wasabi, soy sauce, or hot spices.

A blanc de noirs suits game excellently. Personally, I think the most perfe
ct combination of all is old champagne and foie gras. The sweet, crunchy flavors of fully mature champagne are a much more refined option to liver than Sauternes. The acidity of champagne prevents the fatty liver from becoming too powerful an experience.

Salmon, shellfish, mushrooms and foie gras all go well with Champagne, says Juhlin

© Skyhorse Publishing | Salmon, shellfish, mushrooms and foie gras all go well with Champagne, says Juhlin

A simple Champagne menu

Because champagne has proven to be the most flexible of beverages, there are endless variations of food pairings. I work frequently with the top chefs and know that you can reach heavenly heights when everything is correct. To help you simplify it all, I have selected a small cheat sheet that you can always follow successfully unless you have the time and inclination to experiment yourself. My simple champagne menu contains many dishes, but it is only an attempt to make the dinner feel more luxurious without being too difficult to cook. That way, you can also serve more champagne and showcase the district’s entire records easily. This template can always be followed whether canapés are made from tin bread and caviar or Russian blinis and exclusive beluga caviar.

1. Canapés & Blanc de Blancs

Start with simple canapés and a blanc de blancs from any good grower in the Côte des Blancs. For example, Pierre Peters, Legras, Charlemagne, or Bonnaire.

2. Salad & Non-Vintage Champagne

Continue with a salad without too much lemon or vinaigrette, and non-vintage champagne from a famous house such as Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, G.H. Mumm, or Perrier-Jouet.

3. Fish & Vintage Champagne

A smaller dish with a simple butter sauce accompanied by vintage champagne in the medium-bodied style. For example, Henriot, Pol Roger, Billecart-Salmon, or Taittinger.

4. Game & Pinot Champagne

As the main dish, serve game with mushrooms and vegetables and a mellow, pinot-dominated, heavy champagne such as Bollinger, Gosset, André Clouet, or Egly-Ouriet.

5. Coffee & Chocolate

Finish with coffee or tea and some good dark chocolate, but skip the champagne for dessert.”

* “The Scent of Champagne,” by Richard Juhlin, is published by Skyhorse Publishing at $75. It will be published in the U.K. in January 2014 at 46.31 pounds.    



The Science of Bubbles

L-R: Flower-like bubbles at the top of a Champagne glass; Champagne corks leave the bottle at 30 mph; Champagne under the microscope

© Gérard Liger-Belair/iStock/AFP | L-R: Flower-like bubbles at the top of a Champagne glass; Champagne corks leave the bottle at 30 mph; Champagne under the microscope

How to find “finesse” in Champagne, and the best glasses to drink it from.

Pop! The Champagne cork just flew off at 30 mph, and as much as 80 percent of the CO2 contained in the bottle raced out into your dining room. Better drink up fast!

Opening the bottle carefully is one of the ways to most enjoy a bottle of sparkling wine, says Gérard Liger-Belair, a physicist who has written a book on the topic.

Liger-Belair became interested in the science of Champagne while languorously drinking a beer after his finals at Paris University more than 20 years ago. He liked the sound, a small popping you can hear as the bubbles burst at the surface. He liked the way they propelled the drink’s aroma into the air. And he found the bubbles at the surface of the glass beautiful.

Many physicists might have been content to study the bubbles of beer. But this was Paris, and a French physicist. So he went to nearby Reims, in the heart of Champagne, to study, photograph and occasionally drink bubbles. There are worse jobs.

While there, he also observed a change in world taste. In the recent past, Champagnes with bigger bubbles were considered better. But perhaps because of the proliferation of sparkling wines made through methods other than secondary fermentation in the bottle, today there is a desire for finer bubbles.

If finesse is what you seek, here’s how to find it.

“The two main factors responsible for finesse of the bubbles are the level of dissolved CO2 in the Champagne, and the height of the glass,” Liger-Belair says.

Let’s take those factors one at a time. First, how much CO2 do you have?

The average bottle of Champagne contains about 9 grams of dissolved CO2 – enough to produce about 20 million bubbles. You don’t want to have no CO2, because then you’ve got flat wine; ugh. What you might want is a wine with less than the average amount.

“The age of the Champagne is a parameter of importance,” Liger-Belair says. Corks do not provide an absolute seal, so some CO2 escapes over the years. “Old Champagnes show small bubbles because of their age.”

Many experts would choose the tulip-shaped glass in the center from this line-up of Champagne glasses

© Fotolia | Many experts would choose the tulip-shaped glass in the center from this line-up of Champagne glasses

Another factor is the amount of sugar added to the bottle for secondary fermentation. More sugar = more bubbles. Drier Champagnes will generally have a finer mousse. This is part of the reason for the current trend for zero-dosage sparkling wines.

In Franciacorta, Italy, vintners produce a style of wine they call satèn with fewer bubbles. Maurizio Zanella, president of Ca’ del Bosco in Franciacorta, said: “You can eat without turbulence in the stomach. You don’t have to burp. These are wines you can eat with, but with quality.”

Now, let’s talk about glassware.

The last 30 years have seen a complete shift in Champagne glasses from the wide, shallow coupe that was allegedly modeled on Marie Antoinette’s breast.

In order to showcase the bubbles, restaurants moved to the flute – a tall, narrow glass.

“Bubbles grow in size as they rise toward the Champagne surface,” Liger-Belair says, and today this is a mixed blessing. You can see more and bigger bubbles in a flute with a large pour, and for this reason it’s still the right glass for celebrations such as weddings, where the visual aspect is most important.

However, many winemakers, sommeliers and glass producers have discovered that the flute is not the best way to drink Champagne because it concentrates CO2 at the top of the glass, making it painful to try to enjoy the aroma.The chief executive of Riedel, Maximilian Riedel, is even waging war on the flute. “It is my goal that the flute will be obsolete by the day that I pass away,” he recently declared.

He’s supported by leading Champagne producers, including Krug and Dom Pérignon. Olivier Krug told Wine-Searcher that a flute “can never express” the generosity of its Grande Cuvée; he worked with Riedel for five months to design and develop a glass specific to the wine – Le Joseph. Likewise, Dom Pom’s cellar master, Richard Geoffroy, is no fan of the flute. He recommends a Spiegelau Authentis for the house’s vintage Cuvée and a Riedel Vinum XL pinot noir glass for its Rosé.

“I like the Riedel Champagne glass,” says Hugh Davies, CEO of Schramsberg, a sparkling-wine specialist based in Napa. “It is bowled at the bottom and a bit more narrow at the rim. This really helps us enjoy the aroma of the sparkling wine. I am not a fan of really tall flutes. They may assist in presenting bubbles, but they aren’t as good for exploring the aromas and flavors of the wine.”

Gérard Liger-Belair testing Champagne at his University of Reims laboratory

© Hubert Raguet | Gérard Liger-Belair testing Champagne at his University of Reims laboratory

Liger-Belair is working on designing the perfect Champagne glass, so look out, Riedel. For now, he recommends using a white wine glass for enjoying the aroma, with a larger pour than you would use for still wine. Test this for yourself: the higher the pour level, the more bubbles you will see, even though the level of dissolved CO2 is the same.

Don’t use a wide glass unless you’re trying to tame an overly bubbly wine, in which case you can follow a trend among some high-end sommeliers: decant it.

And don’t worry about getting your glasses precision-cleaned. Bubbles don’t form on perfectly flat surfaces; they form on microscopic particles like dust, or imperfections in the glass itself. Gas builds up there, trying to escape the liquid, until it makes its race to the surface.Visually, sparkling rosé is prettiest, and not just for the color. “The foam of rosé Champagne seems more persistent, probably because of the tannins found in red wine,” Liger-Belair explains.

To preserve the bubbles, you should keep a stopper in the wine while it’s in the ice bucket, and certainly overnight in the refrigerator. The firmer the seal, the better it will preserve the wine; the idea that something like a teaspoon on top will help is an old wives’ tale.

“Inevitably, the second time the Champagne will be served, its level of dissolved CO2 will be less than the first time,” Liger-Belair says.

No matter what stopper you use, CO2 will escape the liquid to fill the space under the cork. The more wine you drink, the larger that space gets. So the more delicate your bubbles are to start with, the more imperative it is to finish that bottle tonight.

That gets back to your bottle-opening technique. If you can ease off the cork, you’ll preserve those precious bubbles that Dom Pérignon allegedly called “drinking the stars.” That quote may be apocryphal, but looking at Liger-Belair’s photographs, it also seems accurate.

Related story:

Scientists Uncover the Secrets Behind Champagne’s Bubbles

It's That Time of Year: Everything You Need To Know About Champagne and Sparkling Wine



Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
Some of the greatest and most coveted Champagnes are rosés, like this Bollinger Non-Vintage Champagne Rosé, one of my favorite wines of all time.

In the wine trade, they call it “OND”: October-November-December, the last quarter of the Gregorian calendar and the 92 days of the year during which more wine is sold than in any other period of the year.

And from the romantic dinner for two to the whole mispucha blowout, from the company holiday party to the Christmas eve family get-together, more sparkling wine is served this time of year than in the other months combined.


And, of course, it wouldn’t be New Year‘s Eve unless we tickled our noses and palates with some fine bubbles.

For many of you, the trip to the wine shop or supermarket to pick up that bottle of “Champagne” might be the only time you buy a bottle of sparkling this year. Therefore, I’ve created the following list to help you navigate the do’s-and-don’ts of sparkling wine (and so that you won’t feel like an idiot on your way to popping that cork).



Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
Just because it sparkles doesn’t mean that it’s “Champagne.”

1. Know How to Use the Word “Champagne” Correctly.

Technically, I should have called this post “Sparkling Wine: 10 Things You Need to Know.” But sparkling wine just doesn’t sound as sexy as Champagne, does it?


For a wine to be called “Champagne,” it must come from the region of Champagne in France and it needs to be made using the proper grapes and technique.


There are myriad kinds of sparkling wines out there: Prosecco, Franciacorta, Cava, Vouvray, Saumur, Sekt… Don’t call it Champagne unless it’s Champagne.


Only the French can write méthode champenoise on their sparkling wine (when it’s made in Champagne). Other appellations can make wine using the same technique. But then it can only be called “classic method” or “traditional method.”


Note that many unscrupulous American winemakers write Champagne on their labels. They are not bound by European Union regulation and so Champagne producers have no way of stopping them.


2. Most Champagne and many other sparkling wines are made from red grapes, not white.


Although some are made from 100 percent Chardonnay grapes (Champagne’s blanc de blancs or white from white [grape]s), most Champagnes are made from Pinot Noir as the primary grape.


Wine gets its color from the skins of the grapes. For the production of most Champagne, the grapes and skins are separated after pressing. As a result, the wine is “white.”


Many sparkling wines from France‘s Loire valley are also made from red grapes, like Saumur, which is produced using Cabernet Franc.


3. Don’t take anyone’s eye out when opening a bottle of sparkling wine.


Sparkling wine is pressurized, and it’s very easy to let a cork slip and fly when opening it. It’s a whole barrel of fun until someone loses an eye, as the saying goes.


Remove the foil from the cork. Holding your thumb on the cork, remove the wire cage by twisting it six times (it’s always six times). Immediately place your thumb back on the cork after removing the cage. Hold the bottle at a 45° angle, and with your palm securely over the cork, turn the bottle, very slowly, from its base (you don’t need to turn the cork). You’ll find that the cork will gently pop out.


4. Always have a nice kitchen towel or napkin on hand when opening sparkling wine.


If the wine has been agitated, it might overflow when opened. The towel will also come in handy to wipe the bottle down if it’s been in ice. And if you’re having trouble turning the bottle when attempting to open it, wrap the towel around the cork and hold it tightly. This will give you some traction.


5. Don’t serve sparkling wine too cold.


There’s nothing Americans love more than refrigeration. But sometimes we tend to over-chill our wines. Especially when serving expensive, fine Champagne, you don’t want to mask its nuance and complexity by serving it too cold.


If it’s on ice, let it sit on the table for 10-15 minutes so its not freezing cold.


We often open sparkling wine in company, and it’s consumed relatively quickly. You and your guests will enjoy it more if you serve it at a decent temperature.



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Twelve Wines of Christmas


Wine Enthusiast taps top sommeliers for their favorite gift-worthy bottles.




If you’re already scratching your head on the first day of Christmas about what bottle to gift your true love—or anyone, for that matter—we’ve got you covered. Wine Enthusiast picked the brains of some of the nation’s best sommeliers for the perfect wines to present to your loved ones on all 12 days of Christmas.







Bottle: Chartogne-Taillet NV Brut Cuveé Ste. Anne (Champagne), $40


“I always prefer giving Champagne as a gift, especially for Christmas,” says Patrick Cappiello, managing partner and wine director at Pearl & Ash in New York City. “My hope is that it won’t live to see the New Year, or just ‘til the stroke of midnight New Year’s Eve.”


Bottle: Alain Voge 2009 Vieilles Vignes (Cornas), $70


“When I think of wines I like to drink, share and gift during the holidays, I immediately go to wines that pull at my sensory heartstrings,” says Shelley Lindgren, co-owner and beverage director at A16, SPQR, and A16 Rockridge in San Francisco and Oakland. “Cornas has long been one of these special wines.”


Bottle: Robert Sinskey Vineyards 2010 Pinot Noir (Carneros), $38


“This Pinot Noir is incredibly versatile, and as Christmas parties can be a smorgasbord of dishes and flavors, a wine like this is necessary,” says Cappie Peete, beverage director at McCraddy’s Restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina. “Robert Sinskey believes in producing elegant wines with bright acidity so that they can age beautifully. This gives the recipient the freedom to decide whether to share the wine during the holidays or tuck it away for another special occasion.”


Bottle: Grosjean 2005 Fumin (Vallée d’Aoste), $40


“Instead of defaulting to a cult Cabernet or—even though we love Champagne—a predictable bubble this holiday season, explore the wines of Vallée d’Aoste,” says Charlie Berg, assistant sommelier at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York. “There is something about [the region’s] snow-covered Alpine slopes and the spicy varietals that evoke a wonderful sense of the yuletide.”


Bottle: Montes 2011 Outer Limits Beyond Frontiers Apalta Vineyard Red (Colchagua Valley), $48


“This blend of 50 percent Carignan, 30 percent Grenache and 20 percent Mourvèdre shows beautiful aromas of dried figs, blackberries and warm cinnamon spice, all flavors that are perfect to complement any holiday gathering,” says Christopher Birnie-Visscher, head sommelier at db Bistro Moderne in Miami. “A wine of this complexity from one of the best vineyards in Chile is a fantastic way to unwrap the holidays.”


Bottle: Cobb 2010 Jack Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast), $150 (11.5L)


‪“Some people fear the size of magnums, although it is only two bottles of wine and typically wine in large format bottles tastes better as the wine has a chance to evolve slower and maintain its freshness,” says Michael Scaffidi, beverage director at Plume Restaurant at The Jefferson in Washington, D.C. “[This wine] is light in body, but the rich flavor of the Sonoma fruit shines through like a powerful dragon.”


Bottle: The Rare Wine Co. NV Historic Series Thomas Jefferson Special Reserve (Madeira), $60


“This legendary beverage would be great for a range of wine lovers from novice to professional,” says John Mitchell, beverage director/sommelier at Stella! Restaurant in New Orleans. “Madeira is eternally good after being opened so it isn’t a wine people would have to rush to drink: savor and enjoy it over the entire holiday.”


Bottle: H. Billiot NV Brut Rosé (Champagne), $55


“Champagne is an artisanal product,” says Neal Wavra, general manager and sommelier at The Ashby Inn & Restaurant in Virginia. “Giving such a gift conveys the message that the recipient is deserving of something special and unique.”


Bottle: Brovia 2010 Valmaggione (Nebbiolo d’Alba), $32


“While many of the Brovia Barolos improve with age, the Valmaggione is a complex and astounding Nebbiolo that can be had now or aged,” says Helen Johannesen, director of operations/beverage director at Animal in Los Angeles. “Its rich and welcoming nose, coupled with beautiful linear lines on the palate, are perfect for snuggling up by a fire or drinking with friends. It is an elegant gift that is perfect for this time of year.”


Bottle: Bergström 2011 Cumberland Reserve Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley), $40


“This is a medium-bodied wine, with notes of black cherries, cloves and cinnamon spices, macerated raspberries, all supported by a well-structured frame,” says Alpana Singh, master sommelier and proprietor at The Boarding House in Chicago. “Any wine enthusiast would be pleased to find this in their ‘wine stocking.’ ”


Bottle: Borgo del Tiglio 2010 Studio di Bianco (Collio), $98


“This bottling, made from Friulano, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc vines grown on steep slopes along the Italian-Slovenian border, is one of the estate’s brightest and also longest-aging, and it will grow more nuanced and layered with time,” says Jordan Salcito, beverage director at Momofuku in New York City. “Plus, it’s off the beaten path and likely to stun your recipient with something new for their cellar.”


Bottle: Quinta do Vesúvio 2011 Vintage Port, $75


Friends receiving wine as gifts never open them when they should. It’s usually on a visit many years later, when you find that bottle and say ‘you should have opened this five years ago,’” says Nelson Daquip, sommelier at Canlis in Seattle. “So, I went with a wine that will withstand the test of time and guilt of being opened too soon.”


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