Champagne and oysters… a pairing that is known by food lovers worldwide to be a perfect match. Similarly, Champagne and caviar is also a famous pairing. Why is this? Is it because they are both ridiculously expensive and represent luxury and opulence? Or is it because they really are a good match?
It wasn’t until recently that I started to really think about food and wine matching, and whether it is an art or a science.
In truth, it’s a bit of both.
The science of it certainly can’t be disregarded, there are experts that write entire books on this topic, providing general principles that serve as an excellent guide. These principles can be broadly categorized into two groups:
Body – pair rich foods with a rich, full-bodied or creamy wine, and light foods with a light-bodied wine.
Intensity – balance the flavour intensity in the food and the wine so that no one overpowers the other.
Texture – this is where sparkling wine really shines, bringing bubbles and foam into the mix. Aim for opposing, but complementary textures.
Salt – salty foods go well with high acidity or sweet wines.
Sweet – sweet foods work best with sweet wines, try and ensure the wine is as sweet or sweeter than the food.
Sour – high acidity, sour foods should be matched with high acidity wines.
Bitter – bitterness in food is counteracted by acidity in wines. Bitterness in wine however, known as tannins, is best offset by fatty red meats.
Umami – this is the elusive ‘5th’ flavour that I can’t quite put my finger on. It loosely translates from Japanese as a ‘pleasant savoury taste’ and can be described as a meaty, broth-like flavour – examples are dried mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, and grilled asparagus. Confused? You’re not alone. Ultimately, I believe it to be a component that gives foods a common flavour characteristic, which is why the above examples, on the surface, seem fairly distinct. Foods containing umami are best paired with low tannin, high acidity wines.
Taking these principles back to Champagne and oysters, the foundation of the match is the brininess of the oyster, which is offset by the high acidity of the Champagne (ideally a dry, crisp Champagne). In addition, the bubbles in Champagne provide a magical textural contrast to the smooth, marble like texture of oysters, with the overall effect being a cleansed and refreshed palate. Squeeze some lemon juice over the oysters and you will enter foodie heaven.
Now let’s take the case of Champagne and bacon. The same salt/acid match applies, with the bonus that the acidity in Champagne is also great at cutting through the fat in bacon. A sweeter, maple-cured bacon also goes magnificently with an off-dry Champagne.
While the science undeniably carries weight, ultimately, it’s down to personal taste. In this way, food and (sparkling) wine matching could be seen as a blank canvas, ready to be painted with all different expressions.
Here are my tips for a four-course Champagne and sparkling wine feast:
As an apéritif, serve a light, high acidity sparkling wine such as Valdo Oro Puro Prosecco with chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano, Marcona almonds and meaty green Cerignola olives. An equally good match would be the Domaine du Petit Coteau Vouvray Brut, a bone-dry vibrant Cremant from the Loire Valley.
For the entrée, blend smoked trout with crème fraîche, mustard, dill and a splash of lemon juice. Serve with toasted rye bread and a creamy, complex Champagne like the Trouillard Brut Extra Sélection à Hautvillers. If this is above your budget, the Graham Beck Chardonnay/Pinot Noir Brut is a superb alternative – fresh with a creamy finish and smooth mousse, it’s delicious and fantastic value so I just had to find a place for it here.
As a main course, if you can get your hands on an Australian Sparkling Shiraz, serve it alongside barbecued lamb, smoky baba ghanoush, fresh mint and pomegranate. If that’s too hard to find, swap it for the Pongracz Methode Cap Classique Brut Rosé from Stellenbosch, South Africa, a ripe and biscuity sparkling which pairs nicely with grilled pork chops and sweet potato mash laced with cumin and baby spinach.
To finish, top homemade Pavlova with summer berries and fresh whipped cream, serve with Moscato d’Asti from Piedmont, Italy – a lightly sparkling, slightly sweet, heavenly wine. I tried the Elio Perrone Sourgal, Moscato d’Asti DOCG some time ago and I’m sure it’s still fabulous.
These are just some examples of great Champagne and sparkling wine food matches, but of course there are many more. Don’t be afraid to get creative, and remember, you can be the artist, the scientist, or something in between.
Written by Katherine Chivers