Wine pairings – Geoffrey Orban interview

Founder of Educavin, where he is a consultant for producers and the interprofession of wine, expert trainer, organizer of tastings and wine tourism guide, this wine, terroir and gastronomy specialist brings another vision of Champagne terroirs and food-pairings for exclusive and unforgettable experiences. His credo: “From the terroir to the plate”. If he clarifies that he is not oenologist, his many expertises and his precision are well-known in the lands of Champagne and beyond. Lets review with him the basics to know to succeed pairings with a closer look to champagne and coffee pairings. 

Nothing is impossible

Geoffrey Orban – a wine specialist with a singular approach of pairings

Tell us about your background, what led you to study and appreciate the work on food-pairings ?
“I have an uncle who is a cook, and a great wine lover – he has by the by made this passion his second job. This lays the foundation.
After my studies I had the opportunity to create culinary harmonies during commented meals, to work with chefs or caterers and I was a consultant for Dalloyau in Paris. Non-sommelier by training, I created my own principles and I studied more scientifically food, the physiology of taste – just like I did for wine during my studies.”

Name a food-pairing that particularly marked you, and tell us why ?
“Very early I started to create food-pairings with Champagne.
As I started working outside my region for 2 years, I had learnt how to have no taboo or rules to follow. I think I started with shoulder of lamb and then chocolate.
I recently made a food-pairing with a young Blanc de Blancs Champagne from the Côte des Blancs with a lemon ganache chocolate. It was audacious, but very successful!”

What is your favorite harmony, and why?
“No false modesty! I do a lot of them each year, and there are great harmonic encounters, which makes my choice impossible. I would say foie gras, raw ham and cheese, as it is very easy to combine them with Champagne.

For you, what is a good food-pairing ?
“There are several possible approaches, but let’s stay on generosity and pleasure.
It must meet three expectations: chromatic / olfactory / gustatory resonance, elegance – even in power -, and the gastronomic objective as it should not saturate the palate in order to facilitate the pursuit of the experience with a another wine and another dish.”

What is the secret of successful food-pairing with wine ?
“It is true that the works on pairings only edit rules which are “easy” to get around.
As far as I am concerned, I encourage the playfulness and the experimentation.
I give you an example : take four bottles of wine and four different preparations of an element – your choice of product : shellfish / fish / cold cuts / foie gras / meat / poultry / vegetables / cheese / dessert… The idea is to test each wine, on each preparation, which makes 16 tests for one session. The interesting thing is that you can do it with your guests during a dinner party for example. The more you develop these types of sessions, the more you will immediately understand what works and what doesn’t, before going further into the process. “

Geoffrey Orban- Educavin

Zoom in on Champagne

What is the secret for a successful champagne-pairing ? 
“I create more than 2000 champagne pairings a year and I do it without bans, but with a lot of common sense and without testing before the harmony. People sanctify champagne pairings and this because of the effervescence. If you admit that the texture basis of a champagne is represented by its acidity and its bubbles, each time you think of an harmony, ask yourself how you will facilitate the introduction of these two elements in the texture of your dish. How will your dish deconstruct in the palate. Once you admitted that, you just have to adjust the power and make harmonic links – fruitiness, freshness, floral or herbal notes…
Lets take an example: a very tender goat and a dry goat. The chewing of the first accelerates the melt and fully facilitates the incorporation of champagne. For the second, chewing leaves only compact pieces that stop bubbles and acidity, and it can be a disaster …”

What types of pairing can be made ?
“You can do everything !  With champagne, as long as the texture of the dish lets the effervescence and the acidity live, you will be fine ! The next question lies on the dosage. The more bitterness there is, the more contrast is needed with the sweetness (structure, sugar). Likewise, the more spiciness there is in a dish, the more sugar is necessary – as with sweet wines. “

Why is it more difficult to pair champagne ?
“Most of the time the common sense mentioned above is not there, and people are badly advised.
For example, you can’t tell a customer to pair a brut rosé champagne with dessert if that dessert is a dark forest with alcoholic cherries inside. Moreover, people usually don’t know the great diversity of champagnes thanks to the blends and all nuances the terroirs offer. When you have a sensory culture of a wine region, it is always easier to envisage it on various dishes and consumption occasions. “

Do you believe impossible food-pairings exist in the wine world ? And more specifically in the champagne world ?
“I honestly think that there are no impossible food-pairing in the world of wine in the light of accomplished extreme achievements. For the moment, I have never handed in a blank copy with champagne. However, it is certain that a food / condiment / spice which saturates your palate and inhibits your sense of taste with too much aggression on the palate can never value great harmonies anyway. “

What is the terroirs part in the food-pairing ? Are they facilitating the harmony ? Can they be the source of a perfect match ?
“I use my expertise on the varietal expression by type of subsoil and by sector of the Champagne area to make my pairings with the winegrower and village cooperative champagnes.
For example : take a raw pata negra Bellota ham. This ham is rich in good fatty acids developing meat, hazelnut and acorn aromas, especially in the mid-palate. I will immediately look for clayey soils whose minerality mainly occupies the mid-palate – whatever the grape variety. After that, I really need a fruity power and freshness. My research is thus focused on a Blanc de Noirs champagne from Pinot noir grape variety on clayey soil, and a quite young one, or I can also choose a very fruity and consistent maceration rosé.”

Zoom in on chocolate, cigar and coffee


Why is chocolate difficult to pair with wines? And more specifically with champagne?
« Black chocolate has bitterness and can be dense, leaving small, compact pieces after chewing. Champagne stands no chance !
The bitterness calls for a contrast with the sweetness embodied by sweet wines – including champagne. With chocolate, champagne pairings are complicated. However, but the little that we manage to achieve is worth the detour ! If we do not want to go for a high dosage, we need a chocolate rich in cocoa – but not bitter ! – and which breaks down and melt easily when chewing. After this common sense basis, anything goes. Champagne is not primarily intended to replace sweet wines, natural sweet wines or liqueur wines, but it is a possible alternative offering pairings of rare elegance. “

How to choose the chocolate market and the chocolates to enable a successful harmony ?
« For chocolate, it is absolutely necessary to test things. Indeed, most of the chocolate makers do not have the same feeling on the degree of bitterness and compaction than wine or champagne connoisseurs.
This is certainly due to the fact that they are told that these agreements are impossible rather than finding the right solutions. Champagne itself can be reluctant to develop the approach.

From a practical point of view : ask your chocolate maker for chocolates and ganaches that are not much bitter and nor compact. Buy four chocolates and take four very different champagnes. Test each champagne on each chocolate – which you have previously cut into small pieces to facilitate chewing. And have your own experience. Pairings is about pleasure”.

Can you tell us about a chocolate pairing that especially marked you?  And why ?
“I will mention two.
A basil ganache chocolate with a rosé champagne grand cru from Champagne Henriet-Bazin, a pairing that I suggest as an aperitif, as it is fresh and very “spring and summer” style. The second is more a fall or winter pairing : a caramel ganache with a Blanc de Blancs of champagne Le Mesnil Œnothèque 1995. Exceptional! “

Learn more about chocolate-champagne harmonies

What about the cigars : why are they so difficult to pair with wine ? And more specifically with champagne ? Why do we choose spirits instead? 
“The smoky and woody character of the cigar persists on the palate and dominates the fine nuances of a wine. It requires a power, wine with character which has developed a certain concentration and nuances of aging. On the contrary, Spirits, natural sweet wines and liqueur wines can offer this benefit.
The elegance and fine nuances of a champagne are easily dominated by the power of the tactile and aromatic persistence of the cigar. Only a good choice of cigar associated with a sappy champagne having developed all its power seems to me to be a way to explore. ”

Learn more about the pairings with cigars 


In your opinion why is coffee is seen as an impossible pairing with wine ? and especially with champagne

“I think because nobody thought about it before! The difficulty lies in the bitterness and warmth that dominate the aromatic finesse and “freshness” of the wine.
It’s the same answer for champagne. However, you can play on cold and not very bitter, but rather aromatic, coffee and on other types of hot coffee preparations but of remarkable finesse which Véra Werding-Chamarande told us about…”

Learn more on the pairings with coffee


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