Aiden Byrne: Champagne is a drink for any occasion
PUBLISHED: 12:11 26 February 2014 | UPDATED: 15:44 26 August 2014
Champagne has to be the most famous wine in the world. We all love a glass or two and it’s often associated with a celebration or, simply drunk as an aperitif, as it encourages conversation, gives a touch of style to an evening with friends and sharpens the appetite.
I’m a pretty simple person from a pretty simple background but over the years of being a chef and owning restaurants I’ve had the opportunity to taste some amazing wines and champagnes as well as being charged with pairing them with dishes that will compliment.
However, as a chef, I work the opposite way around to a sommelier. I am often given the champagne/wine to taste and then I enter into my repertoire of recipe and flavor combinations to find the perfect match. Champagne and oysters seem to be the automatic pairing but it is important to consider the balance between food and drink. It can be achieved so that the wine adds something that perhaps the food lacks, or by choosing a wine with similar flavors that are already found in the food. A wild game dish, for example, can be complemented by champagne’s animal tones, or a nutty caviar dish with an equally nutty champagne.
We don’t often think of drinking champagne throughout a whole meal but when it comes from a quality producer, champagne is actually the wine that is easiest to pair with food - the range of matches is very wide. The most obvious marriages are those with fish, shellfish, poultry, white meats and cheeses.
Matching them with red meat can be trickier, but pink champagnes when vinous can make some very fine marriages. When thinking of a wine to go with notoriously tricky ingredients, such as truffles, asparagus and eggs, I will invariable revert to champagne.
Eggs are interesting because they are not only rich in umami and sulfur, but also have such a fatty texture that the taste buds get covered and prevent you from tasting the wine. The fun part is that the high acidity in champagne neutralizes the sulfur, and the bubbles cleanse the tongue.
Truffles taste wonderful when paired with a pinot-based champagne characterized by gentle animal and vegetal notes.
Asparagus is generally considered challenging to bring together with wine because it contains sulfur compounds, which attribute metallic characteristics, which, in turn, accentuate these flavors when paired with the wrong wines. But champagne is a great exception.
Some of the rules that I adhere to are that ‘one must respect the contribution both the food and the wine makes to a meal’ and as like any flavor combination there are some that are meant to be and others that are not. I am a stickler for classical marriages when it comes to creating dishes for the menu and I tend to take this view when matching food and wines.
Billecart Salmon, Lallier and Gardet are some of the champagnes we serve at both Manchester House and The Church Green as these are the ones we think go great with food.
At Manchester House we will soon be holding an event with Billecart-Salmon to showcase the superb matching of fine food and champagne. Please get in touch for further information. @MCRHouse
Champagne is the most northerly wine region in France, and if you manage to track down one of the few still wines in the region (labelled Coteaux Champenois), you’ll realize what an inspired idea it was to introduce bubbles into these thin, tart, mean wines by allowing a secondary fermentation to occur in the bottle. Champagne is usually made from a blend of grapes sourced from different vineyards across this large region, and the varieties used are predominantly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Although you’d be forgiven for thinking that Champagne is all about image, once you get away from the often-unimpressive inexpensive Champagnes and sample the vintage-dated examples from quality-minded producers, you’ll see what all the fuss is about. Three quarters of all Champagne sold is designated as ‘non-vintage’: this is a blend vintage and can vary widely in quality depending on the producer.
Champagne from a single vintage is designated ‘vintage’, and is produced in lower quantities and only in the better years, so it is usually much higher quality.