Five ways to pair Champagne with food this week
- Blanc de blancs non-vintage with fresh oysters or to cut through the fat of a soft cheese like young camembert
- Vintage blanc de blancs with lobster
- Vintage rosé with roast venison, served slightly pink
- Blanc de noirs with aged Comté
- Demi-sec with a chocolate dessert
Have you ever tried Krug Grande Cuvée with your fish and chips, or vintage rosé Champagne with salmon or game from the barbeque? How about matching up the brioche notes in an aged demi-sec with your breakfast pain-au-chocolat on a Saturday morning?
It regularly vexes many in the wine trade – and particularly those in Champagne itself – that France’s premier sparkling wine isn’t paired with food more often.
Champagne’s many styles and ability to deliver complex flavours – in the right glass – make it a versatile guest at the dinner table, offering plenty of opportunities for experimentation, as the examples above suggest.
For the record, Krug really did recruit Michelin-starred chef Tom Sellers to pair its Grande Cuvée with the traditional British chippy, in 2015.
A few basics to consider
First up, think about the weighting of the blend; for example, is it towards Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, or maybe even Pinot Meunier?
It’s also worth considering the age profile of the wine. Is it vintage? What is the time spent on lees? If it’s non-vintage, what is the profile of the reserve wines used in the blend?
Sweetness, indicated by dosage in g/l, is important, too. The chart below shows the maximum residual sugar levels for each category of sparkling wine
Of course, knowledge of the style preferences of a particular house or grower will help. You’ll find lots of detail in our expert tasting notes on great Champagnes from house prestige cuvée to grower. A well-informed, independent merchant should also be able to advise you on house styles.
Champagne sweetness levels
Champagne with seafood
Fresh seafood platters or oysters are seen as a classic territory for blanc de blancs Champagne, made entirely from Chardonnay.
‘Blanc de Blancs is the natural match with seafood because of its fresh citrus spectrum range of flavours,’ said Champagne expert, author and Decanter contributor Michael Edwards.
A non-vintage Brut Nature can even work here, he added, suggesting the blanc de blancs Premier Cru version from Veuve Fourny.
Blanc de blancs also works with lobster, but some experts suggest a richer style – perhaps a vintage – to match the fuller flavour of this outsized crustacean.
‘One of my favorite styles with lobster is blanc de blancs Champagne, especially a vintage bottling from a great producer, like the 2006 Pierre Moncuit,’ said Chris Gaither, sommelier and co-owner of San Francisco wine bar Ungrafted, which prides itself on its Champagne range.
As an alternative, Gaither advocated ‘a richer style of [non-vintage] Champagne with a good amount of reserve wine used in the cuvée, which adds volume and complexity, like the Brut Reserve from Charles Heidsieck’.
It would be unfair to those houses with a long tradition to describe rosé Champagne as a new trend, but there have been more attempts to create serious, food-friendly versions in recent years.
There are many ‘gastronomic’, vintage rosé Champagnes to choose from, such as Dom Pérignon 2006, Louis Roderer’s Cristal rosé 2002 or Billecart-Salmon’s Cuvée Elizabeth Salmon rosé 2006.
These types of vintage rosé can often take a slightly meatier pairing, largely because of the richness added by a higher proportion of Pinot Noir used to create them.
A stronger-flavoured fish, such as salmon cooked on the barbeque, would be a good summer match to try.
Roast venison or pheasant can make a perfect pairing with vintage rosé, said Edwards, who has also previously recommended Veuve Clicquot’s La Grande Dame 2008 with duck.
Champagne with cheese
Venture into full Pinot Noir Champagne territory and you could experiment with even stronger flavours.
Edwards said that a vintage blanc de noirs with extended years on lees is a ‘perfect match with aged Comté and Beaufort cheeses’.
For a young, creamy camembert, however, you could revert to a vintage blanc de blancs.
The late and great Gérard Basset MW MS OBE recommended Champagne with such cheeses, because one needs ‘good acidity to cut through the high fat content’.
Demi-sec for dessert
The general conensus is that demi-sec should be reserved for dessert. Chocolate pudding could be a winner. Veuve Clicquot also recommends demi-sec with crème brulée and fresh fruit-based desserts.
With so many house styles, don’t be afraid to try things out. See Karen MacNeil’s 10 rules of food and wine matching for a basic starting point.