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Food for Fizz
by Ann Oliver
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 5.5

The closest I’ve ever come to the classic match of Krug Champagne and beluga caviar was a huge spoonful of sevruga thrust down my throat by a mad French chef, then washed down with a ‘79 Cristal returned from the dining room. As memorable as that was, I know not all good Champagne and food matches are as extreme or extravagant.

A single wine style that stands up to an entire meal is the test of any chef, and no style presents more of a challenge than Champagne. With savory food Champagne begs for fine textures, a restrained hand and subtle tastes. Light butter and cream — particularly with white fish, oysters natural, smoked salmon and nearly all types of roe — come to mind. Champagne also adores fresh and vibrant ices and slightly sweetened fruit, yet it marries well with a bit heavier desserts such as poached winter fruits, Champagne sabayon and fragile buttery tuilles.

Savory fat/slightly oily foods paired with bubbly work, too, but solid fat and fizz is ghastly. Imagine drinking a mouthful of delicate Champagne with fatty chips, a rich meaty sauce or worse still, hot sour Thai and Vietnamese flavors. That’ll turn Champagne into turpentine. The strong flavors in these foods demolish the delicate flavors in the wine. Frankly, the key is to match them.

But don’t think just tried and true classic matches will enhance your next glass of bubbles. There’re a few unconventional modern matches that work. A blander texture found in a Chinese chicken broth perfumed with ginger, sesame oil and finely shredded jellyfish is an unconventional match for Champagne, but it works… for everyone but the French, who don’t experiment. The yeasty, fruity, limey, sometimes bacony tastes of Champagne layer with the flavors of the food. It’s not a single taste, but rather the ever-altering surprises that either meet the food and burst with pleasure or smack against it and ruin it.

Take the light and subtle sauces of a little fish stock/pan juice, cream and Champagne, lightly seasoned and shaken briefly together over high heat. You have a terrific Champagne and food match. Neither overpowers the other. And what about the match of freshly shucked (unwashed) oysters with a squeeze of lime, a little pepper and icy cold Champagne. They wrestle with each other for a moment, then unite as the zip of the bubbles brush against the wetness of the oysters. The acidity of the Champagne is the foil for the food. Try a slither of lime and wasabi or spicy flying fish roe for a totally different experience.

As far as perfect matches in desserts go, Strawberries Romanoff served with lightly whipped vanilla-perfumed cream is a classic match, created for the ladies of Paris to eat while sipping (or guzzling) Champagne.

You can even find a top match with Champagne cocktails. A Bellini, the white peach and Champagne cocktail first made famous at Harry’s Bar in Venice, is proof of the perfect match of fruit and fizz. Fresh white peaches marinated in a little sugar served with a dollop of his exquisite white peach sorbet and topped with icy cold Bollinger... sublime!

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