30 July 2014

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In cod we trust


Fish and seafood are obvious matches for champagne, but there are still some tricks to getting it right. Natasha Hughes explores the main food and fizz styles to ensure a perfect combination every time

seafood platter and champagne - 095.jpgOf all the types of dishes you might want to match with champagne, those based on fish and shellfish seem, intuitively, to offer the widest range of possibilities. But while you can find a champagne to match any seafood recipe, it’s far from true to say that all champagnes will suit all seafood dishes.
Take non-vintage fizz, for instance. With its crisp acidity and citrus-tinged aromas, NV champagne is at its best when matched with fairly simple dishes, whose flavours will not overwhelm the wine. Just as wines such as Muscadet, Picpoul de Pinet and Chablis work well with fresh oysters or a seafood platter, so too will a non-vintage champagne – and for similar reasons.
Equally, the vibrant acidity of NV champagne is a good choice if you’re serving a fritto misto or, in its Asian incarnation, a dish of tempura seafood and vegetables. The process of frying inevitably coats the fish in a light film of oil, and the champagne’s acidity helps to cut through this, cleansing the palate in readiness for the next mouthful.
When serving a firm-textured white fish such as pollock or cod, however, you may want to take the champagne up a notch, which is where a good blanc de blancs comes into its own. Although the Chardonnay fruit has a delicacy to it, blanc de blancs wines often have a depth of flavour that you won’t find in a standard NV champagne, which means that the fizz won’t overshadow the fish, but it won’t be dominated by it either.

The white choice

Blanc de blancs is also a good match for dishes based on shellfish and molluscs: you could put a bottle with a dish of scallops, either with a light herb and butter sauce or with fried bacon or chorizo. Alternatively, a richer style of blanc de blancs would allow you to match a dish of grilled lobster with melted butter.
A blanc de noirs is even richer, and what these wines sometimes lack in freshness, they often make up for in depth of fruit and power. Use them to take on dishes such as roast monkfish wrapped in bacon or baked sea bream stuffed with strongly flavoured herbs like fennel or rosemary.
Rosé champagnes are more versatile than you expect, and are particularly at home when the dish contains an element of spice. Partner them with the complex flavours of North African dishes, such as a fish tagine or prawns with chermoula and couscous. Alternatively, experiment with Asian flavours: rosé can handle mild curries as well as the savoury depth of Chinese dishes.
Last but not least, we come to vintage champagnes, which tend to have the richness, balance and complexity to take on heftier dishes, but also shine when matched with simple preparations based on top-quality ingredients.
Oyster Shucking - Oysters_and_champagne2.jpg A young vintage champagne would harmonise perfectly with a slice of roast turbot dressed with herbs and a slick of olive oil. Partner the same fish with a creamier sauce containing some earthy morel mushrooms, however, and you’re almost begging for a glass of aged vintage champagne as an accompaniment. That same aged champagne would also come up trumps when teamed with fish stew, whether the stew in question is based on the tomato and aniseed flavours of the south or the creaminess of the north.
All these recommendations are, of course, mere generalisations and finding the perfect match depends on the style of each wine and each dish. But if you take into account the weight, texture, balance and flavours of all the key components, you’ll find that there’s a champagne to suit any seafood or fish dish your chef might dream up.

Expert view

Two leading sommeliers tell us what styles go best with our fishy friends:

Andrea Briccarello, head sommelier & Wine buyer, Bentley’s
‘The D de Devaux Ultra D NV works magic in partnership with our plat de fruits de mer (dressed crab, lobster, langoustine, oysters and clams, served with cocktail sauce and mayonnaise), the simplest dish served at Bentley’s. While the sea-perfumed flavours are uncomplicated, the Ultra D helps cut through the richness of the mayonnaise, lifting the dish to another level.’

Gal Zohar, head sommelier, l’Anima
‘We do a dish of salt-crusted sea bass cooked à la plancha, in which the salt crust is infused with thyme, rosemary and a touch of sage. I like matching this dish with Ruinart’s blanc de blancs, which has a bit of character, as well as a good balance between toasty, bready flavours, citrus and stone fruit and acidity. Its depth of flavour works well with the meaty texture of the fish and the subtle, herby flavours. It all comes down to balance in the end, and with this match it’s spot on.’

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine Champagne Supplement 2008

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