Touring life’s pleasures through food is a wonderful itinerary, and the destinations seem endless. But there is a special—and rather short—list of culinary treasures that stand above all others: truffles, foie gras, and caviar, are among them. And unlike a simple repast that can be washed down with just any plonk, choosing the right wine to accompany one of these sublime experiences is all the more important.
With caviar, the answer is pretty straightforward: French Champagne and California sparkling wine. Matching the bubbles of the beverage with the sparkle that bursts from the caviar seems almost too obvious, but the varieties of caviar suggest separate choices, all with delectable results.
Russian and Iranian caviar, including Beluga, Ossetra, and Sevruga, are the world’s most renowned, but some American versions have cut into the market with roe from wild Pacific sturgeon and salmon. Each has its own style and fan club, and each points the needle on the wine selection wheel in a slightly different direction.
Beluga, the most expensive caviar, has soft, plump eggs, ranges in color from light gray to black, and has exceedingly fine textures. Equally fine flavors combine both sea salt and butter, and pair best with a vintage French Champagne, the best in your cellar, to highlight the nuances.
Ossetra, the next most expensive, is grayish-brown or gold in color and has medium-sized eggs. Flavors are fresh and rich, sometimes even a bit fruity, with salty, buttery overtones and a hint of nuttiness. Best to serve this with a chardonnay-based French Champagne of high quality, though not necessarily vintage.
Sevruga, the least expensive—if you can say that about something which tops $100 per ounce—has smaller eggs and is gray in color. Its briny flavors are bold and forward. It’s best to serve this with a richly textured American sparkling wine based on pinot noir, even rosés.
American sturgeon roe comes mainly from the waters off the Pacific coast, is typically dark in color with fresh, clean flavors. Best to serve this with a straightforward American sparkling wine, of high quality but not the budget-busters required with Beluga.
Non-sparkling Chardonnay is a passable partner for caviar, but why miss the opportunity to pop the cork on one of those Champagnes you’ve been saving? After all, caviar is that special occasion, right?