Chances are you're going to be drinking a lot of bubbly over the next month, so knowing how best to pair food with your favorite bottle is essential. We recently spoke with Jeff Morgan, author of the Domaine Chandon Cookbook and co-owner/winemaker for Covenant Wines in Napa Valley, to get his tips on matching the right sparkling wine with the right bite. Read on as he shares everything from his pairing guidelines to what makes sparkling wine and truffled popcorn work.
Do you have any steadfast rules for pairing food and champagne?
Basically all wine and food pairings are based on guidelines. It’s not rigid. We don’t all taste things the same way. Most noteworthy about sparkling wine is its acidity. Light, fresh dishes benefit from light, fresh wine. Like the gougères [in the Domaine Chandon Cookbook], they’re light, like eating air. Salty foods and caviar, briny tastes, these are really powerful flavors and they tend to annihilate low-acid wines.
But a bright, fresh, crisp bubbly would work well. Acid cuts through oil and refreshes the palate, it’s a refreshing complement to any dish with body. There’s a reason why we put vinaigrette on seafood and shellfish, they need that acidity. Oysters have richness to them as well, and the brightness of the right bubbly puts that richness in balance. So what we have here is sparkling wine that provides both complementary and contrasting notes, thanks to its bright acidity, to create a perfect food and wine match!
Are there any foods that pair really well with sparkling wine that people might not expect?
The French onion tart is a traditional French appetizer that is a perfect match for sparkling wine. The onions have a certain sweetness and richness, so the bubbly provides a beautiful contrast. The truffled popcorn is great also. How do you turn a movie theatre snack into a fine dining experience? Add truffle oil! It’s just exquisite.
Bubbly would also go well with the foie gras risotto — it’s probably my favorite recipe in the whole book. You don’t have to worry about how to cook the foie gras because it cooks in the risotto. It’s absolutely delicious, and a total change from the risotto you’ve normally had. And it’s a slam-dunk with sparkling wine.
What is your favorite food and sparkling wine pairing?
The gougères and the truffled popcorn. They’re really simple foods that highlight the essence of the sparkling wine. Working the other direction, by virtue of the wine’s complexity, the food becomes more interesting.
What about a favorite sparkling cocktail and food pairing?
The mixed drinks are not really meant to be drunk with what I call “real food;” they’re meant to be drunk with nibble food. But the recipe we have for brandy spiced shrimp is really colorful. It’s a simple dish to prepare but it has the brandy and spice to make it really assertive. The sweetness of the shrimp and the cooked brandy can stand up to the sweetness of the ingredients in any of the sparkling wine cocktails. The Chandon Brut Mojito would be great with that. The gougères and truffled popcorn would also work well with the mixed drinks.
Are there certain varieties of sparkling wine that that pair better with food than others?
Rosé champagnes have some hints of red fruits and berries, hints of cherries, and less of a lemony citrus quality which might make them more appropriate with meats or meat-like poultry such as duck. But by and large, what counts is the texture of the sparkling wine, which is defined by the acidity. The lack or presence of acidity drives the success of a pairing.