A Guide to Pairing: Champagne

Today marks Champagne Day, so what better way to celebrate than talking about Champagne pairings!

A bit about Champagne:

  • Champagne is a region, not a grape
  • With a few exceptions, all Champagne is made from any combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier
  • It can be white or Rosé, and even white expressions can be made from red grapes
  • Only the finest years are vintages wines and very pricey, the vast majority are non-vintage blends, which themselves can also fetch astronomical prices

That said, let’s talk food (think like a chef):

Champagne is used for toasts traditionally as it’s a great aperitif, but there is so much that it can pair with from the food world.

Champagne is generally noted for the yeasty, toasty, bready notes with hints of apples and pears, and in the Rosé stylings, strawberry or cherry too.

So if you’re a chef, and you’re making a dish, the wine has the bread-like favors covered, and some fruit flavors too.  In addition, these are sparkling wines, so there is an active mouthfeel to keep in mind.  So, essentially, you have bread, fruits, and a palate cleanser from the bubbles.

Compare AND contrast:

Ok, easy stuff first, comparable flavors, easy integration.  Champagne pairs well with, well, apples and pears. Most fruits in general work, but a Blanc Champagne will work best with apples and the like, while Rosé Champagne will go great with berries, and honestly, either are interchangeable for enjoying with fruits.

Breads are next on the list.  Embrace the yeasty, bready side of Champagne with most any type of bread item.  Croissants, sliced loaves, baguettes of all shapes and sizes, and even flavored loaves, like salted rosemary, or roasted garlic and asiago.

Now the other side of the coin, contrasting pairings.  Top of the list is Champagne and oysters.  Those little briney shelled pleasures pair incredibly with Champagne as the Champagne makes a great palate cleanser, shutting down the ocean flavors with a wonderful umami.  Sparkling and oysters are synonymous, but no sparkling more so than champagne.

Now let it be said, the absolute best Champagne pairings are, well, just as expansive (or more so) than the already pricey French bubbles from the Gods, and perfectly contrasted for the palate.

Caviar and Champagne.  While outright, it’s the same theory as the oyster (something briney cleansed by the bubbles to accent the umami) there is quite a bit more to be found here.  Traditionally it’s not just a spoon of caviar, it’s accompanied by fried potato chips and whipped, buttery, fluffy potato purée.  So basically everything you want, rich, salty, soft and crispy buttery goodness, all sliced through by alternately rich, active, cleansing bubbles and fruit/floral tones, finishing with the resonant sixth sense (umami), demanding another bite.  Nothing is more decadent, rich, or refined on your palate than proper caviar service and Champagne.  Just writing this, what we’d give for $1000 we could just blow on food and wine right this moment.  No regrets.

Up next, and possibly the only thing more expensive than caviar, is true, certified, Japanese Wagyu, A5 grade, BMS of 8-12.  If you don’t know what these things mean, we’ll leave you to Google, but there is no more rich, delicate, umami packed a cut of steak on the planet, and nothing less will ever come close or suffice as a suitable replacement.  Now, you may be thinking, steak and Champagne?  We know, we know, we did not select Cab to pair with this steak, but for good reason.  The Champagne plays heavily to the desirable umami flavors you get from a wagyu steak cut on the finish.  It will not get in the way of the meat fibers by hitting you with tons of tannin like a Cab would.  There are nuanced flavors that compliment the subtle delicacies of the steak, and the bubbles cut the high (good) fat content of that type of steak.

While it’s cheaper, but still high on the price list, grilled Tomahawk cut ribeye is also great with Champagne, much the same as the reasons above.  Regular ribeye?  Not so much.  There’s something about the bone-in nature of the Tomahawk and what that gives to the finished steak, again, focusing on the umami finish while letting the steak be the tannin.  Truth be told, nothing is worse than paying so much for a cut of meat and missing all the flavors its special diet and raising and harvesting and provenance brought to the table (and price tag), and just killing that experience with some tannic berry bomb from Napa.  There are better cuts for that experience, for these, there’s Champagne.

Get weird:

So….you ever had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?  We’re sure you have.  Ever thought of a wine pairing to recreate that sort of nostalgic flavor combination?  Try a neutral, unseasoned or flavored cracker (Carr’s come to mind), a raw, natural peanut butter (no sugar added), and some grape jelly (of the Concord variety, less sweet is better, but there’s really no getting around sugar in jelly), and wrap it in “toast” i.e. a bready, yeasty Champagne.  That’s all there is to it.  Simple, weird, and tasty.

And of course, there’s always the classically weird, ballin’ on a budget, perfect pairing of fried chicken and Champagne.

So there you have it, our guide for pairing Champagne on Champagne Day.

How about you though? For our other guests, please feel free to share your pairing suggestions for Champagne in the comments below.

Cheers!

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