In Food + Drink

How To Match Champagne With Every Single Course

No one is going to disagree that champagne is a wonderful aperitif, but keeping flutes full for the main course isn’t quite as accepted. In France’s Champagne region, chef de caves and growers are keen to push the point that there’s no occasion champagne can’t stand for – including a steak dinner.

One person particular keen to shift consumer perceptions from celebration to culinary is Nicolas Delion, director at Reims’ famed Champagne Taittinger. For him, the appeal of champagne extends further than first course.

“I love the ability of a glass of champagne to transform any bad day into a good day, to transform any boring day to an exciting day, to transform any boring dish into an exciting dish; because of the wine, because of the quality of product and also because of what champagne symbolises,” he says.

“Many people still think that champagne is this very acidic drink that you are supposed to have just for New Year’s Eve or birthdays; but what we want to show  that champagne can be something else.”

Rich barrel-aged pinot noir champagnes dominated the early 1940s, but the champagne we see today favours smoothness, elegance and complexity. In the time after World War II, champagne transitioned from a one or two glass aperitif to a more quaffable, easily enjoyed beverage, abundant with characteristics that lend it to being enjoyed over a meal.

Despite the characteristics being there, positioning champagne as a culinary beverage is still a gradual process, and it is something that Delion is eager for wineries and consumers to embrace.

“Most people don’t like to go outside of the boundaries, so traditionally you would have white wine with fish, red wine with meat and cheese, and anything else would be either before or after dinner.

“Also, most of the big names that you see around are not pushing their champagnes as culinary champagne and – as we know – if you want people to go in new directions, you have to help them a little bit; take them by the hand and show them that it works.”

Like any good food and wine pairing, finding the right champagne to complement a meal is all about finding a good balance and harmonies between the flavours – what Delion calls the ‘1 + 1 = 3’ rule.

Nicolas Delion Photo: Supplied

There is no hard-set rule about which champagne you should enjoy with which dishes. Champagne and food pairing is subjective, and Delion is a firm believer in just enjoying champagne the way it is meant to be enjoyed.

“We would never tell you ‘you have to feel this, you have to feel that’ about a champagne – all palettes are different, and all people have different reactions. I think that it is very wrong to just say that ‘that is the way it is’.”

To find the most suitable pairing for your palette, Delion recommends finding a champagne that “has enough structure to pair with all different kinds of dishes”.

Along with structure, the body and complexity of a champagne should also be taken into consideration.

As an introduction to culinary champagnes, Delion suggests starting out with some of these pairings.

Cheese

“If you take a category like cheese – where you have so many different styles and so many different levels of power and intensity – the idea is always the same, which is to reach the best balance possible. Let’s say if you have a simple cheese with not too many flavours (i.e. a gouda or cheddar), you would be looking for a champagne with a lot of freshness that will push up, enhance and bring more flavours. On the contrary, if you have a very rich cheese we would be looking at something with more complexity and maybe a lower level of acidity so that you can enjoy more of both of the flavours.”

Red Meat

“For a red meat dish, I would definitely go champagne rosé. But not any rose – rosé of addition; assemblage. Champagne rosé made with red wine and not with skin contact will have enough tannins and enough structure to pair with the power of the meat.”

Fish

“If it is steamed fish, I would go for something very light, very delicate. If it is grilled fish, I would probably go for something a little lighter, but a little bit older as well; to have more power and more expression to pair the punch that the grill will bring to the fish.”

Dessert

“There is a champagne we produce called the ‘Nocturne’. It is from the category ‘sec’ and it is basically up another level of sweetness to brut. What I would be looking out for in a dessert pairing is extra roundness and extra sugar in the champagne that will match the dessert and will allow both flavours to shine.”

Published 28 May, 2018