My wife, a Champagne aficionado, believes bubbly goes well with just about any food writes Alan Markoff.
Personally, I’m sceptical of the theory.
I tend to like red wines with certain foods, maybe because I’m more of a red wine lover. But there have been those nights of matrimonial compromising, when I have ordered beef and my wife has ordered fish, where we have met in the middle by ordering a bottle of Champagne instead of suffering through the usual poor choices of wines by the glass. I’m not sure if opting for my wife’s beverage of choice actually counts as a compromise for her, but it beats a pairing of Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay with steak for me.
But there are choices other than beef and fish on most all restaurant menus, and finding food that pairs well with Champagne is not a difficult as it might seem.
Both my wife and I had a good lesson on just how versatile a food wine Champagne can be on 14 January when Blackbeard’s Fine Wines, Beers and Spirits teamed up with Ristorante Pappagallo to host the 2nd Annual Taste of Cayman Winemaker’s Charity Dinner.
On hand for the gala event was Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne winemaker Pierre Casenave. Not unsurprisingly, the five-course menu was chosen to pair with four different kinds of Veuve Clicquot Champagne.
On arrival, guests mingled in the lounge sipping Veuve Brut Yellow Label and tasting a selection of canapés.
Veuve’s Yellow Label, the label on which looks more orange to me, is by far the most popular product in House of Veuve line.
“Veuve made its reputation from the brut non-vintage, which makes up more than 90 per cent of sales,” Casenave said.
Speaking to guests, the winemaker confirmed my wife’s beliefs right away.
“It’s not very well known, but Champagne is one of the best food wines,” he said. “Most of the time, people associate Champagne with celebration, but they forget it’s a wine.”
Among the meat dishes that Casenave recommended pairing with Champagne were fish, shrimp, poultry and even veal. Ristorante Pappagallo Head Chef Steve Wagner created a menu that challenged the very premise of Casenave’s – and my wife’s – assertions.
The first course, which was also paired with the Brut Yellow Label, was a sublime creation of mimosa-style egg over gold potato blinis, topped with caviar and champagne dressing.
Over the years, I’ve attended many Champagne brunches – or more often, sparkling wine brunches – so the successful pairing with egg and the salty caviar wasn’t surprising. The dinner was off to a great start.
Sticking with a pairing with the Brut Yellow Label, which is a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier grapes, the next course was a checkerboard of tuna and salmon carpaccio served with fennel salad.
Because the two kinds of fish were served raw, all of their oils remained intact, and the pairing wasn’t totally successful. It seemed to work better with the tuna, which isn’t quite as oily as salmon. Even with the bubbles, the wine couldn’t quite fight past the oily texture of the salmon to allow its flavour to shine. Still, it wasn’t necessarily a terrible pairing – after all, we were still drinking Champagne!
The third course, a pyramid of Chinese black rice, also called forbidden rice, with seared scallops and baby calamari, was paired with non-vintage Veuve Rose. The pairing worked well, even with the earthy nuttiness of the rice, which was cooked risotto-style in a light fish broth.
Casenave noted that Champagne is particularly good with seafood.
“It pairs perfectly with food, especially with food from the ocean,” he said.
The final savoury course would serve as the biggest pairing challenge because of some stronger flavours in the food. To counter this, the dish of pan-roasted breast of guinea fowl stuffed with prosciutto and foie gras along with Swiss chard and figs, was served with top-end Veuve champagne, a 1995 vintage La Grande Dame Rose.
The complexity of flavours in the older Champagne matched well with the course, which was complemented by the dried fruit taste of the figs.
The dinner was finished with a pineapple upside-down cake with coco-lime sorbet, served with Veuve Demi-Sec. I usually wouldn’t dare touch a semi-dry sparkling wine even if it was Champagne, but as a dessert wine served with a sweet dish, it paired perfectly.
Radio Cayman’s Jay Ehrhart then acted as auctioneer as several items were sold off, including bottles of La Grande Dame, to raise money for the Cayman Islands Tourism Association’s primary charity, the Lighthouse School. Casenave stayed on after the dinner to chat with guests and to autograph several bottles of Veuve Clicquot.
The dinner was the kick-off of a weekend of events that were part of the inaugural Cayman Islands Culinary Money. Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne was also a centrepiece of the Taste of Cayman event at Camana Bay on 16 Saturday, where it was served in the VIP courtyard.
Attendees of the Winemaker’s Charity Dinner and everyone who bought two bottles of Veuve Clicquot Champagne in the lead-up to Christmas and into January also earned a chance to win a trip for two to France to visit the Veuve Clicquot Museum, chateau and vineyards. That trip was eventually won by resident Jack Kaufman and his wife Jenny.