“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.
© 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.
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.
© 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.