In a gourmet restaurant, it is customary for sommeliers to advise on the choice of wine(s), once the dish(es) selected. Occasionally, they are even food and wine pairing menu suggested. Food-pairing… here is an important and decisive discipline, especially since a bad choice can quickly ruin flavors, aromas and the moment … Conversely, wine can exalt the meal when the dishes are paired with great care. Pairings on texture, structure or on the aromas can thus amplify and bring the feast to the next level for a true culinary experience. Concerning the champagne wines, the know-how gets more complex. It is necessary to take an interest in the terroirs, the grape varieties, the type of viticulture, the vinification, the aging time … but also to take into account the acidity, as well as the effervescence of champagne.
Finding the perfect match
The perfect harmony… an interaction created between two products – a wine and a dish, a spirit and a cigar, a coffee and a chocolate… When someone is interested by the world of champagne and the art of food-pairings – just like for the other wines -, it is a quest for a product that will flourish with the chosen cuvée and will exalt the wine tasting, revealing in some cases unexpected notes that are more or less hidden during the tasting of the wine by itself. But a champagne pairing can quickly be unpleasant. The wine can ruin a dish or the fare can stifle the subtleties of champagne, leaving only the acidity and the effervescence express themselves. In order to create those harmonies between the champagne and food, it is a question of culture, history, tradition, identity, balance and minerality, but above all thing : emotions and pleasure ! From the wine to the dish or from the fare to the champagne, the success comes from finding the right balance between the tasty, the brutal and the acidity – this so distinctive acidity of Champagne sparkling wines.
Champagne is one of the wine region focusing on quality. Precision, accuracy, minerality… today both the Big brands and the winegrowers are refining everyday a little bit more their art, producing highly individual wines with distinct personalities. When precision is pushed to its climax, it goes so far as to unveil the unique identity of its terroir and thus restore the message of the place where the roots are anchored and which are at the origin of the acidity, as well as the identity serving as the basis for the pairings. Craftsmen and craftswomen creating wines of a great purity, proof of a true Champagne expertise. However, to create harmony, the focus should not exclusively be on the mastery of the winemaker who crafted the cuvée. Here, it is also about the know-how of the chef or the craftsman behind the product that will be paired, all linked by the talent of the sommelier. The opportunity to remind about the importance of the know-how of those wine experts in the success of a gourmet feast. And even if the art of champagne food-pairing is not an easy task, the great aromatic range and the diversity of wines allows a multitude of harmonies with other products. Thereby, the range of possibilities is wide.
A real quest for balance
Admittedly, it is much easier to choose champagne for the aperitif or to pair it with fish, crustaceans or poultry. Those are the most obvious, but also the easiest chords – the fact remains that they are delicious. However, some more vinous champagnes enable beautiful match with meats for example. Lets take the example of desserts : more and more, it is said that it would be best to avoid pairing these sweet courses with champagne. However, Philippe Jamesse – Sommelier at Domaine Les Crayères in Reims for eighteen years, ‘‘Champagne Specialist’, Sommelier and wine consultant – has been creating for several years now surprising food and champagne pairings, from the starter to the dessert – one of his specialities : champagne with chocolate … A real balancing act.
Magnifying the subtlety, freshness and elegance of champagne is a perilous exercise. Although, it is difficult to dictate strict rules, some advice may be given:
- Dare to test – one thing is for sure, in the world of wine, learning is tasting (moderately anyway). So to create a well-balanced food-pairing, it is important to start with the tasting of the wine and the product – depending on which one is the starting point.
- Playing on the similarities – aromas, structure, minerality … To create a match, one of the possibilities is to find a unifying track to guide the tasting and create an echo between the two products. A champagne on salinity and with oysters, the creamy character of a foie gras with velvety semi-dry …
- Venturing contrasts – the harmonies are evident for products with similarities, but it is also possible to favor complementary opposites and to create balance : sweetness with acidity for example. The principle of “birds of a feather flock together” is therefore far too simple to serve as a rule.
- Do not focus on aromas – They are certainly part of the possible paths to build a match, but harmony can also be built on textures, density, volume, sense of touch.
- Taste in a progressive order – whether for pairings or just regular champagne tasting, it is better to respect a certain hierarchy of taste.
- Keep an open mind – lets not forget that taste is a complex universe. The senses and the appreciation specific to each comes into play. It is easy to ruin a tasting simply with a bad light, a too noisy environment impairing tasting abilities, music not harmonizing with wine, the wrong choice of glass… An unfortunate experience must therefore be analyzed as a whole and not become consensus.
An everlasting story
In terms of food and champagne pairings, the challenge remains big, but also exciting. A quest for excellence allowing to arouse emotions and create real moments of poetry. A perpetual search for harmony and links between two products. An expertise also at the origin of a certain image of refinement, knowledge and art of living. A way to shine in society, but most certainly to put the lights on the Appellation… However, in this captivating and prestigious universe, a question remains facing the disagreements and the lack of consensus on the subject. It is therefore time to tackle the fateful question: are there really impossible food-pairings with champagne?