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How to Pair Champagne and Food: Tips from a Cellar Master

How to Pair Champagne and Food: Tips from a Cellar Master

Michelin star meals and homes dinners all deserve to be paired with a sparkling glass of champagne. Which one?

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"Would you like a glass of Champagne?" When the cellar master of Veuve Clicquot Champagne, Dominique Demarville, offers you a glass of Extra Brut, you say yes.

But, what pairs well with champagne ? Everyone has an opinion on what to drink with champagne. Many save it for a special occasion while others think it's the perfect pairing for popcorn and a movie. 

Some say it goes with everything, a sentiment which Demarville almost agrees. You can enjoy the champagne with many kinds of foods,” the Chef de Cave said at a champagne pairing dinner at the Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Montreal. He was in town for two dinners as a part of Montreal, the city's pre-eminent gastronomic festival where he paired seven champagnes with dishes from guest chef, Eric Bouchenoir.

"Some foods are more difficult to pair than others", he added. There are differences between champagnes, which go beyond sugar levels. 

There are currently 15 champagnes in his portfolio, and each is unique. Extra Extra Old Brut, for example, is a blend of reserve wines from six years. "We have 2010, 2009, 2008, 2006, 1996 and 1988 and the dosage is very light - only 3 grams per liter," he said.

Though not originally from Champagne, Demarville has worked for champagne houses since 1991. He first became interested in winemaking in 1985 after visiting his best friend's family home in Dijon, France. Now, he has several top champagne houses on his resume, including Perrier-Jouët and GH Mumm, where he was Chef de Cave from 1998 to 2006 before moving to Veuve Clicquot .

Since then, he has become addicted to pairing champagne with the food of Michelin Star chefs, especially the late Joël Robuchon.

HOW TO PAIR CHAMPAGNE WITH MULTIPLE COURSES

“With Eric Bouchenoir at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Montreal, we had seven champagnes, but at home, almost nobody can do that. So I suggest you have a non-vintage white or rosé for the aperitif and the first dish - because the non-vintage has a very strong flavor and texture on the palate since it's a blend of champagnes from different years - and then a vintage for the second or third dish, for deeper food.

HOW TO PAIR DESSERT WITH CHAMPAGNE

It seems like sacrilege, but Demarville recommends pouring a demi-sec Champagne into a carafe to diminish the bubbles. “Like that, we reduce a little bit the effervescence of the demi-sec and heighten the intensity of the fruits and the sweetness of the demi-sec. You want to bring out the sweetness of the food."

DEMARVILLE'S BEST JOËL ROBUCHON MICHELIN STAR CHAMPAGNE PAIRING

“Last time I met Joel Robuchon, we had the vintage 2008 of Veuve Clicquot with a blanquette de veau with truffle and it was outstanding. Maybe also because it was the last time I met Joël, but it was something very special. Blanquette de veau is a dish that's very simple but done by Joël Robuchon with the touch of truffle, it was amazing.

BEST CHAMPAGNE PAIRINGS

  • Lobster with Rosé Champagne. "I love to match lobster with rosé Champagnes, especially with truffle, because the truffles bring a kind of smokiness and you have the taste of the shell, which is very mineral. And the texture of the lobster works well with the tannins and fruitiness of the Champagne. "
  • Duck and Foie Gras with Vintage Rosé Champagne. At L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Montreal, Demarville paired a duck, foie gras and cranberry dish with a vintage rosé from 2008."
  • Salmon in Red Wine Sauce with White Champagne. Another dish on the Montreal menu featured a mi-cuit salmon with Savoy cabbage and a ravigoté sauce with Malabar pepper and red wine. "Sometimes I take a risk to make something very special. With red wine in the dish, it could be good to use rosé Champagne. But I decided to use white Champagne, La Grande Dame 2006, which is very intense, creamy, with a very delicate finish and a refreshing crispness because the fish is a fish with a kind of creaminess, fatness. The sauce with red wine has a very delicate acidity, which we also have in La Grande Dame. It was the best pairing of the menu, even though the dish was very strong with the red wine. 
  • Eggs with Non-Vintage Champagne. "Eggs work well with non-vintage Champagnes, because of the generosity of the blends in the non-vintages."
  • Steak-Frîtes with Vintage Rosé. "It brings out the tannins."
  • Scallops with Vintage or Non-Vintage White Champagne. "The scallops have a lot of minerality. When we heat the scallops, we have the nutty flavors and it works very well with white Champagnes. 

SURPRISING CHAMPAGNE PAIRINGS

  • Bouillabaisse with Demi-Sec Champagne. "Or something very dry, like Extra Brut Extra Old. I believe the two extremes are going to be interesting. "
  • Asian-Style Salmon Tartare with Non-Vintage Rosé. "Rosé because of the fatness and creaminess of salmon and a non-vintage rosé with the smoky, delicate flavor of the soy sauce.
  • Foie Gras with Demi-Sec Champagne. "Often we pour demi-sec with dessert, but it also works very well with foie gras or with spicy food."
  • Tempeh with Extra Brut Champagne. "With something fermented, something that is very linear, I will use very young Champagne with a lot of purity."
  • Poutine with Non-Vintage Champagne. "The rich, flavourful dish needs a Champagne with richness and intensity."

WORST CHAMPAGNE PAIRINGS

  • Tomatoes. "They're very difficult to pair with Champagne because of the acidity.
  • Asparagus. "Because of the green taste."
  • Dark chocolate. "If you use creamy chocolate, it will be okay, but dark chocolate is very challenging with Champagne because it has a bitterness. That's why I prefer dark chocolate with a coffee or with a brandy. "

THE MOST IMPORTANT CHAMPAGNE PAIRING TIP

"Don't be afraid. I think the most important thing to learn is to try and take risks. If you make something that is too safe, of course, it will work but you will never have something exceptional. "

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