There are some rules, but Champagne makes a surprisingly happy bedfellow to all parts of the menu, says Martin Dibben, head of Champagne at Searcys
When you have a wine as beautifully made and with as much diversity as Champagne, I am always amazed at the reaction I get when I mention pairing it with a full menu. People get a slight twitch in their eye and you can see that they are thinking it is part of my eccentricity, but there are some tricks of the trade to finding the perfect pairing of Champagne and food.
There is a common misconception that Champagne is only for a celebration, as an apéritif or perhaps as a toast at the end of the meal, but the real joy of Champagne is in the huge variation in the styles of the cuvées depending on the grape and production – it is these variations that allow us to pair fizz with dishes from starter to dessert.
There are seven grapes that can be used in Champagne, although it is dominated by Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Other factors include the amount of sugar added at the dosage stage before corking the bottle, from 3g per litre for Brut Nature to Doux, where 100g is added, along with the number of years the wine has laid dormant in the cellars.
How do you know if the pairing works? First, taste the Champagne and savour its character. Then taste the dish and return for a further sip of the Champagne. If the Champagne has a similar taste as before or an even more interesting flavour, you have a match. However, if you find there is a loss of freshness and fruit flavours, move on.
One of my most memorable and favourite Champagne pairings is with fish and chips. Back in my student days, a group of us went to Geales in Notting Hill in London to drink Champagne with the staple British takeaway and mushy peas – how well the combination worked remains clear in my head to this day.
I suggest the following:
- Blanc de Blancs – this is created solely from white grapes, which makes it crisp and fresh and a natural match for plainly cooked seafood and light fish, such as sea bass and oysters.
- Non-vintage – it will depend on the blend, but if it has red grapes you can pair it with stronger flavoured fish or with white meat, including guinea fowl, as well as light cheese, light citrus sauces and, if you are feeling decadent, white truffle.
- Vintage – vintage wines will be left far longer lying in the cellar on the lees (for a minimum of three years) than non-vintage, so they develop more complexity, which works well when paired with fish and meat served with a heavier sauce.
- Rosé – as these Champagnes will have some contact with Pinot Noir skins, they can be paired with red meat. Whether it be
- Venison, lamb or duck, it is recommended that the meat should be cooked pink. Rosés can also work with some Asian food.
- Demi-sec – with up to 50g of sugar per litre added, this wine is going to be your choice for dessert. Cream- and milk-based desserts such as panna cotta and crème brûlée pair well, as does a fruity apple tart, or apple or pear frangipane. If you like a blue cheese, you have a match made in heaven.
I beg you to go out and start having fun with pairing Champagne with all different types of food. Some won't work, but some will, but you will remember them.
New bar alert!
The Club Soda Tasting Room, Bar & Shop has now opened on Drury Lane in London with a huge range of non-alcoholic drinks to buy. I visited during dry January and was truly impressed – there's even a wee bar at the back! I highly recommend a visit when you're next in the area.
Cocktail of the week: A Saluti
Savage Garden, London. Head mixologist: Mario Giaconia
A saluti is the Sicilian way to say cheers when drinking with friends. The translation is "to good health".
- 45ml Aperol (use a small espresso cup or a shot glass to measure)
- 25ml pineapple juice
- 10ml mango purée or a few cubes of fresh mango
- Peroni or similar
Rim a highball with your favourite spicy blend, eg, cayenne, salt and smoked paprika. Pour the Aperol, pineapple juice and mango purée into a highball glass. Top up with extra-cold Peroni or another light Italian beer.
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