Champagne with food part 1

If you’re planning on celebrating New Year’s Eve with some Champagne, make sure it goes with the planned menu.

Nine times out of ten, when wine lovers party on New Year’s Eve Champagne will be served at the turn of the year. Recently though, at an excellent dinner gala, I was among 160 people who enjoyed two dishes with a nice bottle of Ruinart. Champagne can be served as an accompaniment to food.

The food-pairing ability makes Champagne a great wine for the contemporary grazing craze. Be it tapas, mezze, or a 12-dish tasting menu, grazing on a number of small portions is cool. And Champagne is in its element as an accompaniment. But which Champagne? No, I don’t mean which Champagne House or brand. Champagne is a gloriously many-faceted wine. Which style do you want? Do you drink Blanc de Blancs or Blanc de Noirs, non-vintage or vintage, white or rose, dry or sweeter? With canapes, it is usually non vintage, but are there better matches out there?

As Champagne is a white wine, a chef will naturally choose a menu that includes fish, rather than meat. Fair enough, but hardly challenging. The basis is to find Champagnes that have similarities of flavour to the dishes they’re served with. I was once given a black truffle flavoured dish to accompany older Blanc de Blancs Champagne. The savoury flavours of the wine complement the earthy, savoury flavours of the truffle. Another classic Champagne match is the local Chaource cheese with a creamy-textured Champagne. This precious liquid then is, after all, one of the few wines you can buy almost anywhere by the glass. A different style of Champagne with every dish? Why not?

Blanc de Blancs
The classic Champagne for oysters, in fact, for all kinds of seafood. The purity and light, lemony character of Chardonnay are just the things to set against the delicacy of crustaceans and gently flavoured white fishes. As blanc de blancs Champagne ages and develops creamy, toasty notes, it becomes more of a match for fish and seafood dishes with cream or spice-perfumed sauces. And a really mature, toasty blanc de blancs can be a wonderful match, even for the earthily intense scent of black truffles.

Blanc de Noirs
Undiluted by Chardonnay, blanc de noirs Champagnes provide exuberantly fruity flavours, particularly if made from a majority of Pinot Meunier. The basic fruit character is apple often with strong overtones of red fruits (raspberries, strawberries and redcurrants). These are Champagnes suited to meat dishes, especially lighter meats, such as pigeon breast, partridge, veal, pork, and even young pheasant. The savoury, chocolaty flavours that develop in blanc de noirs can be paired with darker, richer flavours, kidney venison for instance.

Non Vintage
It’s not easy to generalise about food matches for non-vintage Champagne: there are so many different styles. A predominance of black grapes will lead you down a more savoury route, whereas Chardonnay is more suited to lighter dishes, including Japanese sushi (beware of Wasabi). The maturity of the wine is another consideration. Is it young, fresh and fruity, crafted as a lighter style for aperitif drinking; or does it have more age on lees and afterwards in the bottle, more suited for the table?

Young, fruity non-vintage Champagne is unexpectedly good with French and Swiss mountain cheeses, such as Beaufort, Gruyere, Emmental. These work well, particularly if the cheese is the savoury, fruity, winter version, made from milk from cows over-wintered in barns and fed on silage. Older, toastier non-vintage Champagnes can cope with dishes with darker, nuttier flavours. Oscietra caviar, with its sweety walnutty flavours is particularly suited.

A splash of the Champagne you intend to drink in the sauce of the dish will also create the possibility of a successful pairing, provided other elements of the dish do not interfere.