I know that we’re still several weeks away from New Years Eve, but it’s my favorite holiday of year, where I truly go all out in the kitchen preparing a 5 – 7 course meal along with some close friends and I’m already planning for it. One of those friends, my co-host for the evening, selects and brings wine paired with each course, and over the years our pairings have varied from the most straight-forward to the most eclectic (a wine pairing with a dish based on halloumi cheese?). However, it being New Years Eve, one particular wine is always called for: Champagne (for purposes of this article, let’s call all sparkling wine Champagne).
While I’m not actually an ardent lover of Champagnes, and rarely order it out, I do admit to feeling special when I have a glass in hand. It screams out “It’s Celebration Time”, is clearly associated with special events, and gets people as excited as Kramer during Festivus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Festivus).
French Champagne is made generally from just a few grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier), and while the options for sparkling wine are more broad, they are also generally the more mild/subtle grapes. While I’m not a big believer in the old rule of red wine with red meat, white wine with fish/white meat, I do generally believe in lighter bodied wines with lighter bodied food. However, Champagne is a very big exception to that general rule.
Champagnes, as I mentioned above are usually made from grapes that make light wines in their still variations, that are mild, have low (or no) tannin, and pair well with lighter foods. But, champagnes are also high in acid, many have a bit more sweetness than their still counterparts from the same grapes, and those tiny little bubbles provide substance, body…almost “texture” to the wine, that enables it to stand up to much heavier foods that are high in fat, and rich in flavor, salt and spice. Those qualities lead Champagne to a much wider range of great food pairings.
Then of course, aside from the actual flavors and quantifiable characteristics of Champagne, there are “emotional” elements that extend the range of food pairings. Being on the high end/sophisticated side of consumables, it’s obvious to pair Champagne with oysters, caviar, truffles and lobster, and frankly even if you don’t have the perfect match…no one’s going to fault you for serving up a pair like that. But, you can also enter the realm of contrasts…pairing a “low-brow” food with your high end Champagne can be a very cool – opposites attract right? French Fries, buttered popcorn, olives, and poached eggs are all very simple and all go really well with Champagne.
I guess my overarching thought is a simple one…don’t sweat the details when trying to figure out what to pair with a nice glass of Champagne. Certainly there are some things to avoid (not sure I’d want it with a bowl of consume), but for the most part you can’t go wrong. I’ll leave you with a recipe for a quick hors d'oeuvres I did last New Year’s Eve…it is on the “upscale” side of things, but it’s actually very simple to do, and absolutely delicious:
Buckwheat Blini with Smoked Salmon & Caviar:
- Buy a blini mix at your local supermarket and prepare the batter per directions
- Cook the blinis in a non-stick pan with a bit of vegetable oil, which will help crisp the edges and provide a nice bit of texture
- Add about a teaspoon of creme fresh to each blini, along with a thinly sliced piece of smoked salmon
- Season with a bit of fresh ground black pepper (no need for any salt)
- Top with a teaspoon of caviar, and a sprinkle of freshly chopped chive
- Serve them up with a flute of nicely chilled Champagne and enjoy!!
Dave is the founder/owner of the web site NoRecipeRequired.com, a site which is dedicated to showing the fundamental techniques and strategies that home cooks can use to make great meals.