Understanding how primary tastes interact is necessary when pairing champagne with food. But fine-tuning the rules of thumb, especially with some consideration for texture and luxury, can really improve our overall enjoyment of the two together and make less likely combinations possible.
Champagne is much more of a food wine than is commonly thought. In fact, there are few foods that do not pair with champagne, albeit through carefully considered cooking methods and recipes.
Like all wines, there are general rules of thumb that apply based on primary taste interactions (sweetness, umami, acidity, saltiness, bitterness and heat). Champagne’s salinity and acidity, for example, make it possible for it to dance effortlessly with everything from oysters to French fries. Its autolysis (yeasty) characters align nicely to almost anything with a fried or toasty crunch, and its fruity and savoury notes compliment a host of umami dishes from raw seafood to truffles.
Rules can guide us, but in the case of champagne, they can also lead us astray. A little something that I learned in my WSET study days was that wine has less of an impact on our perception of food flavour yet food can heighten or lessen our perception of wine. The truth is there is an art in balancing the flavours we apply to general rules of thumb. A little fine-tuning, here are there, not only preserves the integrity of food flavour, but also elaborates the promise of a great champagne wine.
Increasingly, chefs and sommeliers are experimenting with how a little artful balancing can push our general understanding of champagne and food pairing rules. For evidence, look no further than our capital cities where restaurants and event organisers are lining-up to host champagne dinners with thought-provoking menus.
In Adelaide, Stewart Green, Head Chef of Sprout Cooking School, curated a magnum-only champagne dinner with Tyson Stelzer earlier this year. When asked about his approach to some of the more unlikely food compliments on the menu, Green says it started with a basic reference to France before taking it a step further. He says that successful champagne and food pairing needs to evoke a sense of luxury, celebration, and the anticipation of what comes next.
“Textures that contrast and complement each other are important, particularly when it comes to the luxury component of champagne,” he says. “Silky textures such as parsnip mousse, chicken liver parfait, blackberry gel, tomato rouille; these all tick that box nicely. And what could be more celebratory than a surprise burst from some salmon roe?”
Whilst vegetables can be difficult to pair with champagne, Green says that the key is to choose them as the unsung hero in dishes, using their texture, as opposed to flavour, to play to champagne’s luxuriousness. When applying this principle, more challenging ingredients, such as tomato, onion and ginger, can be the critical link for a dish in finding its champagne mate.
Read the full story in ISSUE NO. 2 of VINE & BUBBLE Magazine.
WORDS | Sara Underdown
PHOTOGRAPHY | Judit Losh