Celebrating Holiday Champagne Pairings
When Sommelier David Mangeat poured the Champagne we’d selected into a decanter, I was shocked.
I was at the Michelin one-star restaurant Les Berceaux in the center of Épernay, a two-minute walk from the grand Avenue de Champagne and its succession of famous Champagne houses.
The Champagne was Gosset’s Grande Réserve Brut. A nonvintage bottling, this is usually a pop-and-pour proposition. But the decanting brought additional depth and richness to the wine, making it a perfect companion to the lobster.
I’d come to Champagne to see how the region’s chefs match their food to the local wine when not every sip celebrates a special occasion. If the chefs here don’t understand the keys to pairing Champagne and food, no one does.
Two days earlier, Chef Pascal Tingaud had given me a complete lesson in Champagne pairing in his kitchen at the Moët & Chandon entertaining house known as Le Petit Trianon.
“If a pairing works, the Champagne and the food make music,” Tingaud says.
That means getting many elements just right. And according to Tingaud, aroma and texture are the keys to success.
“You must be able to smell the food and the wine without either dominating the other,” he says. “You must create a synergy between the texture of the wine and the texture of the ingredients. Weighty ingredients need a weighty Champagne.”
Salt is the common, essential ingredient, Tingaud says, sprinkling sea salt liberally over a dish of oysters with fennel.
“If a pairing works, the Champagne and the food make music,” Tingaud says. “You must be able to smell the food and the wine without either dominating the other.”
But, he says, “it’s much easier to match most foods with Champagne than with still wines,” as Champagne is less dominated by terroir-driven, distinctive flavors.
Simplicity came up again and again when talking to chefs about Champagne pairings. No more than three ingredients in the dish, says Tingaud.
Dominique Giraudeau, chef at Le Grand Cerf, a Michelin one-star restaurant outside Reims since 1992, concurs.
“You have to keep the cooking sober, simple,” he says. “Not too much sauce, let the ingredients do the matching.”
At the end of every meal, the chefs would insist that Champagne and sugary desserts go together. I maintain that they don’t, not even with the sweeter demi-sec styles. Outside this fairytale region, there is a limit to Champagne’s versatility.
So eat your dessert, and then to cleanse and refresh your palate afterward, pour yourself a final glass of Champagne. Then you can rightly say that Champagne can go from the beginning of a meal right through to the finish.
—Photos by Christina Holmes
Chef Patrick Michelon runs Les Berceaux, a Michelin one-star restaurant with attached bistro, Le 7, and 28-room hotel in the center of Épernay. Originally from Alsace, he has made the restaurant his home since 1996, matching Champagne and fine cuisine. This lobster dish was the star of my meal there.
- 2 lobsters, about 1½ pounds each
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 pound mushrooms (portobello or button)
- 7 ounces Arborio rice
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 3 tablespoons heavy cream
- ¾ ounce butter
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Cook the lobsters in a big pot of boiling water for 5 minutes (or buy them ready-cooked). Remove lobster meat and slice evenly. Reserve coral.
Sweat shallots and garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil until soft. Slice mushrooms, and cook in separate pan with remaining olive oil.
Add the rice to the shallots and garlic, then add the chicken stock. As the rice cooks, add the mushrooms. Stir gently to avoid sticking, allowing liquid to soak into rice. Add more liquid, either stock or water, as necessary.
Once risotto is cooked, add lobster coral to the cream. Stir to combine, and then stir the mixture into the risotto. Quickly reheat lobster in a pan with butter. Divide risotto among four plates, and top with lobster. Serves 4.
Gosset NV Grande Réserve Brut:
Decanting and immediately pouring into glasses brings out the fruit in this wine, its freshness cutting through the rich lobster. Don’t worry if the Champagne loses some bubbles, it makes it even better with the dish.
Patrick Tingaud is the in-house chef at Moët & Chandon in Épernay. That means that Champagne has to come first, and the recipes are designed to showcase the Champagnes. This easy-to-cook scallop dish is typical of his recipes, which require only a few ingredients.
- 1 ounce whole white almonds
- 8 ounces coconut milk
- 12–20 scallops (depending on size)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ ounce plain flaked almonds
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Liquid smoke (or beechwood chips and smoker gun)
Gently toast the whole almonds in a dry pan. Meanwhile, heat coconut milk until boiling. Transfer almonds into boiling coconut milk. Remove from heat and let steep for 3 hours. Strain and check for seasoning.
Sauté scallops in hot olive oil until lightly browned, turning once, about 1 minute each side. Remove and place on wire rack. Sprinkle with flaked almonds without superimposing them. Put beechwood chips in smoker gun and turn on, or add a few drops of liquid smoke to almond milk.
Emulsify almond milk just before serving. Arrange scallops in individual shallow serving dishes, and then pour almond milk around them. If using smoker gun, let a bit of smoke out over the milk and cover immediately to trap the smoke. Serves 4.
Moët & Chandon NV Rosé Impérial
“I find rosé is the best partner to the texture of the scallops and the smoky flavors,” says Tingaud.
Chef Giraudeau’s basic guide to matching Champagne and food
- Set the scene with an apéritif Champagne. “It’s there to prepare the palate, keep it fresh and clean for the food.” He recommends brut nature or brut zéro styles (the very driest).
- Play on the acidity of the Champagne. Let it work to cut through rich or spicy foods.
- Never have too much sauce, just use the juices from the food.
- Seafood works best because the briny flavors go well
- To pair Champagne with meat (it works with most meats, except beef), pick a weighty wine, like a vintage Champagne or rosé.
- If you’re serving multiple Champagnes, start with the driest and lightest and move to the richest. Go from nonvintage to vintage, perhaps finishing with a rosé.
Dominique Giraudeau, chef at Le Grand Cerf, a Michelin one-star restaurant between Reims and Épernay, has a huge cellar of Champagnes at his disposal, many of them well aged. “When we create a menu, we obviously want to get the best accord between the food and the Champagnes,” he says. “Although in fact everything goes with Champagne, it’s a question of deciding which.”
- Chopped fresh herbs (a handful each of chives, tarragon, flat leaf parsley and chervil)
- 10½ ounces lightly salted butter, divided
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 chicken (4–5 pounds)
- Salt, to taste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or peanut oil
- 6 unpeeled garlic cloves
- 3–4 thyme sprigs
- 3 bay leaves
The day before cooking, chop and mix herbs. Put 8 ounces of butter, black pepper and lemon juice in blender. Start blender and add herbs. Blend until smooth. Check seasoning. Remove from blender.
Season chicken with salt and pepper. Insert herb mixture gently between flesh and skin. Refrigerate overnight.
Preheat an oven to 350˚F. Roast chicken in pan with the remainder of the butter, plus the oil, garlic, thyme and bay leaves. Roast for 90 minutes, basting frequently.
Remove pan from oven. Place chicken on cutting board to rest. Add 1 cup of water to the pan juices and reheat. Remove as much fat as possible. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Carve chicken and coat pieces with pan juices. Serve with new potatoes and bacon slices. Serves 4.
Louis Roederer 2008 Vintage Brut
“You need to play on the acidity of Champagne with food, especially rich food,” says Giraudeau. “So a younger vintage Champagne goes with a rich chicken dish.”
- 1Lobster with Creamy Mushroom Risotto
- 2Scallops with Smoked Almond Milk
- 3Principles of Champagne Pairing
- 4Roasted Chicken with Herb Butter