I have already written about how a well-chosen Pinot Noir could match with (almost) any meal you would care to eat it with.
Let’s take it a step up – Champagne (and other sparkling wines) are an often forgotten yet surprisingly versatile pairing option.
In some ways, this is a bit of a cheat option. How so?
Let’s look at Pinot Noir:
- It is one variety (though there are many clones)
- Typically light and dry
- Age and vintage variation can have a large impact
Now compare with Champagne and sparkling wines:
- Can be made from many varieties, even blended
- Many styles, from bone dry to sweet, white and rosé
- NV (Non-Vintage) styles largely eliminate vintage variation, although…
- Age and vintage variation also contribute to different styles
Another caveat is that, while not impossible, a single Champagne or sparkling wine may be difficult to pair with multiple dishes.
Which makes it a great option for a multi-course meal.
Champagne With Every Meal
A multi-course meal might be structured like so:
- Appetiser: Raw Oysters
- Entrée: Poached White Fish
- Main: Grilled Steak
- Dessert: Citrus Soufflé
(Disclaimer #1: this example menu is highly simplified and not at all representative of what you might find in fine-dining venues anywhere.)
First, let’s dismiss the likelihood of pairing just one bottle with all of the above; there are too many conflicting flavors in play, with the extremes of chilled, raw oysters on one end and a hot, fruity, fluffy soufflé on the other.
Given a hypothetical budget of AU$200 or under per bottle, here is a set of Champagnes that I might choose:
- Billecart-Salmon Brut Blanc de Blanc NV (~AU$140)
- Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Champagne 1999 (~AU$155 RRP)
- Veuve Clicquot Vintage Rosé 2008 (~AU$130 RRP)
- Taittinger Nocturne Sec Champagne NV (~AU$90 RRP)
Total: ~$AU 515.00
(Disclaimer #2: all prices in this article are taken from the same online retailer; expect to pay a premium in a restaurant.)
Let’s examine the reasoning behind each selection.
1. Billecart-Salmon Brut Blanc de Blancs NV
There are two key terms influencing my choice for this wine to go with the oysters
Blanc de Blancs:
This signifies that the wine is made entirely from white grapes, in this case Chardonnay.
Chardonnay grown in Champagne is known for being light and crisp with a bracing acidity, perfect for raw seafood.
As mentioned above, this means “Non-Vintage”.
Such wines are typically a blend of vintages, giving the winemaker a chance to express a “house-style” of wine that is consistent year-to-year, unaffected by vintage variation.
NV wines are typically brighter and fresher than their vintage counterparts.
Both of the above factors together should be reason enough to match with raw oysters
2. Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Champagne 1999
The most salient point here is the fact that a vintage is stated at all.
In this case, the wine has almost two decades of age; one can expect the brighter fruit characteristics to have waned, shifting the spotlight onto the more interesting, savoury secondary and tertiary attributes that come from winemaking and aging.
There is also an absence of terminology – “Blanc de Blancs” is not mentioned, suggesting a blend of the classic Champagne varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier.
Such wines almost always show more complexity and weight than those made from 100% Chardonnay
Given the above information, we can deduce that this wine will present a certain richness that the first wine would not have. For this reason, it should be a fine match for the poached fish.
3. Veuve Clicquot Vintage Rosé 2008
Here again, a vintage is stated: 2008.
Isn’t this younger than the second wine? Wouldn’t that mean it is fresher? Why match a fresher wine with a heavier dish like steak?
The first reason is the key term “Rosé”, meaning that the wine will show some colour, unlike the first two wines. Depending on it’s development, this may range from bright pink to salmon-orange.
The 2nd wine was already a blend on red and white grapes, despite showing white in the glass. For a wine to show some colour suggests that it will show some more complexity and body on the palate as well.
Finally, another reason why we may want a younger wine with the steak – depending on the cut of meat, some extra youthful vibrancy and acidity may be needed to cut through the texture of the dish.
4. Taittinger Nocturne Sec Champagne NV
Finally, with dessert, the key term here is “Sec”.
This signifies that there is a degree of sweetness to the wine (between 17-32 grams per litre is the legally defined range).
It is not as Demi-Sec or Doux (which would indicate more sweetness), and should be balanced by it’s youthful acidity, making it a convincing match with our Citrus Soufflé.
When Price Is No Obstacle
If you want to go completely crazy, here is another potential line-up:
- Armand de Brignac Blanc de Blancs NV (~AU$750 RRP)
- Dom Pérignon Oenothéque Vintage 1959 (~AU$5,000 RRP)
- Krug Clos d’Ambonnay 1996 (~AU$4,000 RRP)
- Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque Rosé Hummingbird Edition 2005 (~AU$800 RRP)
Total: ~AU $10,550.00
We can apply a similar deductive approach here:
- The terms “Blanc de Blancs” and “NV” are present. Bonus: It is owned by rapper JAY-Z.
- The vintage stated is 1959, likely made before you were born if you are reading this.
- This requires a bit more “in-the-know” knowledge:
- Clos d’Ambonnay is a 0.68 hectare plot of vineyards planted solely with Pinot Noir.
- This is therefore a “Blanc de Noirs” style of Champagne – white wine made from red grapes.
- I could not easily find a Sec Champagne for above $200, so I settled on this lovely vintage Rosé.
Sparkling On A Budget
Not all sparkling wine is Champagne, and often you can find great value for money by looking outside of that small, hallowed territory.
A selection from all around the world:
- Andre Delorme Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Blanc de Blancs NV (~AU$39)
- Juvé y Camps Reserva de la Familia Brut Nature Gran Reserva Cava 2011 (~AU$58)
- House of Arras Grand Vintage 2008 (~AU$60)
- Riccadonna Asti Spumante NV (~AU$13)
Total: ~AU $170.00
Applying the same lens to these wines:
- A non-vintage Blanc de Blancs from Burgundy, serving as a reminder that Champagne is not the only region that makes sparkling wines in France.
- From Spain, 2011 vintage, likely a blend of varieties. “Gran Reserva” denotes a minimum aging period of 30 months before release, increasing flavour complexity.
- Australia, one of the country’s most awarded sparkling wines. 2008 vintage, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
- Italy, non-vintage. Asti is a style of wine made from Muscat Blanc, and often has lots of residual sweetness.
For a third of the price (~$170) you can have a similar wine-pairing experience to some reputable Champagnes (~$515), or less than 2% the price of the top-of-the-line brands (~$10,550).
The obvious questions:
- How does one justify paying 3x or even 50x the price?
- Will you get 3x -50x the enjoyment from it?
For now, I will leave this question for you, the reader, to meditate on – I’d like to save some material for future articles, after all!
The main point of this article was to open your mind to the exciting possibilities of pairing food with Champagne and sparkling wines. In that aim, I hope I was a success.
Read more: Do You Drink Wine For Fun, Or For Pleasure?