How to create a Champagne pairing
Food and wine pairings are part and parcel of designing a menu, but bubbles are often overlooked when it comes to creating an elevated match.
“Australian’s typically start with bubbles and pair food with whites like a Hunter Valley Chardonnay and reds like a Barossa Shiraz,” says Michael Gavaghan, venue manager at Kingsleys’.
The Sydney venue has recently launched ‘Bar à Truffes’ where diners can experience the ‘L’Atelier de la Truffle’ bar menu which features truffle flavoured snacks paired with Maison Mumm’s RSRV Champagnes. It’s not alone — a number venues around the Harbour City are jumping on the Champagne pairing trend in order to lift the city’s gloomy mood and draw diners back out.
Bar M chef-owner Paola Toppi agrees Champagne has typically been overlooked as an option for pairing. “A lot of people like to start a meal with bubbles, it kind of refreshes the palate,” says Toppi, suggesting this cleansing attribute also makes Champagne perfect for sipping throughout a meal.
While Champagne’s characteristics make it a natural fit for food pairings, it’s reputation as a celebratory drink is behind Toppi’s decision to host a dinner that highlights the beverage.
“There’s a gloomy atmosphere in Sydney,” she says. “[This is] something to perk people up a little bit.” Like Kingsleys, Bar M has partnered with a Champagne house — Ruinart — to offer a menu designed around bubbles. Toppi hopes the one-off dinner event will showcase Champagne’s pairing prowess.
Special events and activations put Champagne on the radar of diners who might otherwise be turned off by the typically high cost. “It’s a little prohibitive price wise,” says Toppi. “And when you want to have a Champagne, you generally want to have a good Champagne.”
Curated menus like those on offer at Bar M and Kinglseys’ give diners the opportunity to sample a wide range of Champagnes, while longer-term deals will keep them coming back. “We’ll have an activation for a couple of months where we offer Champagnes by the glass so [guests] can at least try them,” says Toppi. “We did Dom Perignon by the glass for a few months last year — it’s a very expensive option for people to buy a bottle, but sometimes just to have a glass is indulgent enough.”
Kingsleys is the first venue in Australia to pour all four Maison Mumm RSRV Champagne cuvees and according to Gavaghan the pop up truffle bar is all about creating a luxury experience to coax Sydney-siders out during the cold winter weather. “Truffles, cheese and Champagne are an incredible match make for a really indulgent experience,” he says. It’s the best way to encourage diners to try something new; events such as ‘Bar à Truffes’ and Bar M’s collaboration with Ruinart allow diners to experiment.
“Champagne in general is overlooked in Australia because we have such amazing wines at home, we often tend to drink locally and French Champagne obviously isn’t something that we do,” continues Gavaghan. “We wanted to demonstrate the effect that champagne could have on food on everything from cheese and truffle, to salami and honey to a steak with rich truffle butter.”
Perfect the pair
So, how can other venues make the most of Champagne and food pairings? When it comes down to it, the rule is simple: keep it subtle. Champagne might be a beacon of excess. However, while it’s an indulgent libation, it’s also easily overpowered.
Both Toppi and Kingsleys’ executive chef Daniel Corbett agree it’s best to steer clear of highly acidic foods and certain spices, as well as particularly rich or heavy dishes.
Although Corbett argues Champagne itself isn’t all that versatile, he says the effect it has on food is amazing — if it’s paired well. Top of the list for Corbett are mineral, salty foods like oysters and caviar. “The Champagne offers a refreshing taste because of the bubbles and often creamy notes found in Champagne,” says Corbett. Truffles, as well as other earthy produce including mushrooms, have a similar effect thanks to the mousse in some Champagnes, he adds.
Toppi enjoys the process of adjusting her menus, which showcase Neapolitan-style cooking, to suit different cuvees.
Sydney Rock Oysters with Osetra caviar and a Champagne foam are paired with Ruinart’s R de Ruinart Brut. “A lot of oysters wouldn’t be suitable for Champagne,” says Toppi. “But Sydney Rock Oysters haven’t got a lot of sulfur so they’re subtle and are great to have with a brut.”
The same full-bodied brut is also married to a kingfish tartare in a colatura dressing served with shaved fennel, fresh horseradish and red sorrel. “It has a bit of spice from the horseradish, but that’s tempered by the fennel and the colatura dressing, which is like Italian fish sauce, let’s call it, bit it’s subtle and sweet,” says Toppi.
A dish of house-made ink ravioli filled with blue simmer crab in a light cherry tomato sauce would normally include plenty of spice, reveals to Toppi, but to accommodate a pairing with the rosé she opted to remove the spice. “The crab is very sweet [and] the cherry tomatoes give a little acidity, but not too much,” says Toppi of adjusting the dish to find the right balance. “If you have acid, you have to balance it with sweetness,” she says.
The same equation applies to a dish of Patagonian toothfish, poached in orange and lemon juice and sprinkled with a variety of herbs. “The orange juice sweetens up the lemon juice,” Toppi explains. “Then the dill is sweet, basil is sweet, mint is sweet — that balances it all out.”
Toppi and Corbett both recommend flexibility when it comes to creating the menu. While it might be typical to find the right wine for a dish, when it comes to Champagne pairings, it’s best to work the other way.
“Champagne isn’t versatile at all, another reason you rarely see a menu written to be paired solely with it, but luckily food is,” says Corbett.
“To really appreciate the Champagne, it needs to be at the forefront of the meal,” says Toppi. “Everything has too balance.”
Ultimately, it’s all about balance. And if you can get the balance right, a Champagne pairing menu might just be enough to get diners out of the house and into your venue.
[image] Steve Daniel