Understand Champagne and food pairings
We almost feel like telling you to pair your dish with whatever champagne you fancy, as long as you like it. When it comes to food pairing, everyone is free to do as they please, free to create some unlikely matches that may surprise us and take us to tasting heaven, but also, sometimes,... to tasting hell!
We also almost want to tell you, as Jean Frambourt, former president of the international sommelier association, once told us: "the best pairing is done at the table and if the guests like each other... the wines will be good". A meal shared with someone you like will not have quite the same flavour as one shared with a miserable or boring guest"
Be that as it may, if we have people we like seated around our dining table, we may as well respect a few rules so that we don't run the risk of them never wanting to come round for dinner again.
Champagne is acidity
As a general rule, the wines of Champagne are more acidic than those of the South of France. The more sun there is, the riper and less acidic the grapes will be, and vice versa.
It is also for this reason, and to smooth out the edges, that we will "dose" the champagne with sugar just before its bottling. This is known as the "dosage" and we do it with a "liqueur d'expédition".
• Doux : + than 50 grams of sugar per litre
• Semi-Sec : between 32 and 50 grams of sugar per litre
• Sec : between 17 and 32 grams of sugar per litre
• Extra-Dry : between 12 and 17 grams of sugar per litre
• Brut : - than 12 grams of sugar per litre
• Extra-Brut : between 0 and 6 grams of sugar per litre
For a sugar content of under 3 grams and if the wine has not had any sugar added, the statement "brut nature", "non dosé" or "dosage zéro" can be used.
When the dosage is under 6 grams, the sensation of acidity is more pronounced. This is the case with the extra brut, brut nature, not dosed, and zero dosage champagnes.
As for the bruts, they contain between 6 and 12 grams of sugar.
If we stick with the category of low dosage champagnes (under 7-8 grams), we can distinguish two different profiles. Those champagnes that are light and fresh and those that are more robust and vinous.
By vinous, we mean champagnes based on red grape varieties (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier), champagnes honed by time, champagnes aged in barrels... You can also find vinous Chardonnays of course, but let's stick to the (very) general outlines here.
Although in both cases the acidity is analytically present, the vinous champagne will appear less crisp and more rounded.
Acidity whets the appetite
You may have noticed that drinking a glass of champagne will whet your appetite. The French verb "ravigoter", which is the basis for the name “ravigote”, a vinaigrette sauce with capers and therefore acidity, means to make more vigorous, to reinvigorate. It seems that acidity in the stomach is a signal sent to the brain to communicate famine. Carbon dioxide also stimulates the secretions of the stomach glands and the appetite. Conversely, a vinous, heavy, oaky, dense champagne will send a signal of satiety.
Acidity reduces fat
That's why your creamed chicken or fish with white butter will seem more digestible with a zesty champagne or a lightly coloured rosé. All dishes of this type, and even an andouillette sausage or Chaource cheese, like to be paired with this type of wine.
The more acidic the sensation, the more the palate will salivate. This is a physiological reaction that helps us to dilute the acid and make it less aggressive on the taste buds.
White meat, as well as dry goat's cheese, for example, tends to dry out the mouth.
The two reactions will match. The palate will seem less dry and the acidity less pronounced. Light rosés with little colour will react in the same way. On the other hand, a vinous and denser rosé with some tannin may contract the taste buds somewhat and thus reinforce the sensation of dryness.
Fish, fatty acid and iron
In a Japanese study, 26 white and 38 red wines were tasted with several fish and scallop-based dishes. The ones that worked were those with the least iron, i.e. the white wines. This seems to be due to a reaction with the unsaturated fatty acids in the dishes. We know this instinctively because we often put lemon on our fish. It also works with oysters and other seafood.
If we try this with a fuller-bodied rosé, the salinity and bitterness will mutually increase and make the sensation unpleasant.
What do you serve with desserts?
The champagnes of our ancestors had a very high sugar content. Some champagnes have been found to have contained 140 grams per litre. A sweet wine will go well with a sweet dessert, but an acidulous wine will put the sugar and acidity in opposition with each other by mutually reinforcing them.
In this case, you should go for desserts with crunchy fruit such as raspberries. These champagnes will also pair well with ricottas making them more digestible or even mousse-based desserts (in both cases either mango or red fruit).
As a general rule, the more acidulous champagnes call for summer and spring cuisine, while the more powerful rosés call for autumn cuisine. This is normal because in summer and spring we look for something to refresh our taste buds and encourage salivation and in autumn and winter something to comfort us, nourish us and warm us. It is the same with wine: light wine = sunny cuisine, powerful and vinous wine = winter and autumn cuisine.
So, what about the more coloured rosés?
Well, they are a perfect match for red meats, such as pigeon, that are often served rare. Their fine structure will frame the protein and fat in the meat, and the same goes for duck. The more full-bodied and powerful the rosé, the better it will accompany dishes with a strong character such as those commonly found in oriental or exotic cuisine.
What about vinous champagnes?
They work a little like the more coloured rosés.
And for the sweetest champagne?
Very often, the higher the dosage, the more the wine will be liked by everyone and will work with "expressive" dishes with even a few spices, Thai cuisine for example or a more strongly flavoured meat. And when sugar has the upper hand (anything sweeter than a brut or extra dry) you can also have fun with some sweet and savoury dishes (such as pork with pineapple) and even red fruit or mango-based desserts.
But, whatever the style of your champagne the best match of all is the one you will create with your Valentine, holding hands and gazing deep into each others’ eyes!