Understanding Food Pairing with Champagne
Ah, champagne. It's a French discovery synonymous with romance, celebration, and, for those who don't know how to properly open a bottle, safety goggles. Filled with flavor, essence, and history, champagne is a wine that people sometimes know little about. Often overlooked for a bottle of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild or a Grand Reserve Pinot Noir, champagne is frequently to the alcohol industry what the garter belt is to the fashion industry: it's only given attention during wedding receptions.
It's not the champagne's fault; it didn't insult drinkers in a drunken, outspoken moment. Instead, it's the fault of the wine drinking community. The blame lies on our perception - or more pointedly misconception - of champagne.
This misconception often happens because champagne has a reputation for being sweet, like a wine with a cheerful demeanor. This leads drinkers to limit its pairing, often pairing champagne only with foods that complement sweetness. Some common pairings include chocolate or cheese. And, of course, everyone knows few things beat getting under the covers and welcoming a romantic night cap of strawberries and champagne. Yes, we all know that champagne has a reputation for being good in bed.
However, champagne is so much more than chocolate, cheese and strawberries; champagne is a drink that can be paired with many different food items. Full of celebration, and a bubbly personality, it is quickly becoming a drink everyone wants to take to dinner.
First and foremost, it's important to understand the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine. They have a lot in common and people tend to use them interchangeably. However, they are not the same. Both sparking wine and champagne is made the same way - with a second fermentation that causes carbonation - but only wine made in the Champagne area of France is allowed to be called Champagne. Those made outside this region, are simply called sparkling wines (pardon our French, Prosecco, we didn't make the rules).
Many types of wine can be categorized by flavor and champagne is no exception to this rule. Just like other wines, some champagne is sweeter and some is drier. Overall, the categories to keep in mind when pairing food are the following:
- Extra Dry
- Extra Brut
On the spectrum of sweetness, Doux is the most sugary, while Extra Brut is the driest. Brut, teetering between dry and very dry, is the most popular; many champagne drinkers raise their glasses to it.
Doux and Demi-Sec: If the French fries we dipped into our chocolate milkshakes as children taught us anything it was probably that saltiness goes well with things that are sweet. This rule is now carried over from childhood into adulthood: salty dishes complement the Doux and Demi-secs very well.
Asian dishes, rich with soy sauce, potato chips, Mexican dishes, and fish, when it has a salty tint to it, all go well with Doux and Demi-secs. And, of course, nothing beats a nice glass of sweet champagne and a brand new salt lick.
As for desserts, Doux and Demi-sec shouldn't be paired with something more sugary than they are: that kind of sweetness may just too sappy. Instead, these champagnes are good with slightly sweet dishes, such as pound cake and angel food cake, and bittersweet chocolates. For desserts that are sweet, a Doux or Demi-Sec is the best chance for enhancement. However, the sweeter the dessert, the harder if may be to pair with champagne. Some desserts may be so sweet that no champagne will work.
Dry and Extra Dry: The word"dry" in a drink may sound contradictory. After all, a drink shouldn't leave you parched. Dry and Extra-dry champagnes aren't drinks built on aridness; instead, they are simply champagnes that aren't as sweet as they could be: think of them like champagnes with a chip on their shoulder.
These types of champagne go well with fried food and sushi, particularly when the sushi is slightly on the salty side. They also go well with almonds, vegetables, Asian food, poultry, light and heavy cheeses, and, everyone's favorite, liver.
As far as dessert is concerned, Dry and Extra Dry makes an ideal match for Flan, semi-sweet chocolates, and dishes that aren't overly sugary, such as fruit tarts.
Brut and Extra Brut: Over achievers of the champagne world, Brut and Extra Brut go well with many, many dishes. The dryness of the champagne opens up a doorway allowing champagne to walk - scratch that - gallop, through. Among some of the dishes that go well with the driest champagnes include turkey, dishes made of eggs, pasta with cream or mushroom sauce, lobster, shrimp, poultry, nuts, and scallops.
This type of champagne, despite its reputation, does not go well with sweet desserts; the dryness makes an awkward combination, like a glass of champagne and a slice of frosted cake that don't know what to say to each other.
Among some of the dishes that typically go well with any category of champagne are fish, oysters, and dishes with olive oil.. And, of course, many types of champagne go well with mushrooms, which is ideal both for people who love mushrooms and Alice in Wonderland.
To be, or not to be: that is the question. William Shakespeare, 1601
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